Los Angeles, CA
It's never easy to write up a Las Vegas trip report. So much happens too fast that it's impossible to process everything, even a couple of days after the fact. Details are omitted due to a fuzzy memory or an attempt to protect your friends from utter humiliation. After all, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas unless you do something retarded in front of someone with a camera or Twitter account.
The 21st century has caught up to the Winter Gathering. It used to take days or even weeks after the trip in order for all the debauchery seeped out and became fodder for public consumption. At the first ever gathering, I spent over a month writing and posting about the three day trip... and even then I left out a significant amount of details. But these days, friends and lurkers at home were able to follow along with the hijinks in real time via Twitter and Twitpics.
Getting to Vegas was an inordinate process. On Tuesday night, I flew from NYC to Burbank's Bob Hope Airport (my 10th airport in two weeks) then drove to Vegas with Change100 on Wednesday. This Vegas trip was smack in the middle of an insane travel schedule which started before Halloween that included two trips to NYC for the holidays (Christmas pending), 13 Phish concerts in five cities (Indio, Albany, NYC, and Charlottesville with 4 pending in Miami), a vacation in Costa Rica, and two trips to Vegas (November Nine and WPBT).
After this rigorous schedule and 10-week bender, I'm confident that sometime in early December I'll be admitted to a health facility in Utah to treat "exhaustion" which is a fancy PR-spin term for rehab.
We arrived on Wednesday for a weekend in Vegas. It seems as though we have to arrive earlier and earlier to fully prep for the weekend battle. I've compared these gatherings to running a marathon while dodging bullets and sipping a Martini the entire 26 miles. Epic Vegas trips are a true war. A battle of attrition. Only the strongest survive. Doesn't matter if you're a seasoned veteran with combat experience and a liver made out of stainless steel, or you're a newbie taking a leap of faith for the first time. Las Vegas is a fickle leviathan and some days the ground below you rumbles then opens up and swallows you whole as your decent to Hades becomes imminent.
That's why when you survive the WPBT, you earn a badge of courage.
Wednesday was my night to rage solo before I lost all semblance of sanity and marinating my liver in Southern Comfort after my friends arrived from all over the country including folks who flew in from the Canadia region.
I degen'd it up in the pits at the Pai Gow tables at the Imperial Palace, the eye sore of the center Strip, but the suits at Harrah's are unable to tear down the monstrosity which formerly hosted a party (to commemorate Hitler's birthday) in one of the secret rooms by the former owner.
At this time of December, the IP is a haven for cowboys and working girls. But something happened this year... less cowboys (the economy) and less hookers (the morality police). That's like removing the peanut butter and jelly from a PBJ. All you have is two stale pieces of bread.
After getting stuck early at the Pai Gow tables, I slashed and burned my way towards a break-even session even though the dealer sent me on MPGT (Mega-Pai-Gow-Tilt... a term I coined many years earlier after a horrendous session at the IP). Yeah, I thought that I was ready to scoop a win with quads and a pair... only to lose to the dealer's quads and a higher pair. JesusfuckingChristMingthanksforkickingmeintheballs!
I bit my lip as I cursed her and her children's children under my breath. To complicate matters, I had to sit through a lecture from the dealer n broken English about the benefits of playing the "Fortune Bonus." Even though it drives Grubby and Grubbette batshit crazy that I do not play the bonus... I stick to my guns. Either you play it every time, or don't play it at all. I'm a high volume Pai Gow player. I crunched the numbers and it's a losing effort over the long haul with the deflated odds on specific hand bonuses. Perhaps if I got natural/true odds for the bonus, then I would be more apt to play. It's not quite a sucker's bet like insurance in blackjack, but the Fortune Bonus comes close. So, no Ming. I don't want to play the bonus and stop fuckin' badgering me about it.
Yeah, I snapped because I noticed something this trip that I had never seen before... the persistence of Pai Gow dealers trying to "hard sell" the Fortune Bonus. The rote dealers were given an executive order from the Harrah's suits to push the bonus during the Great Depression. That doesn't jive with me. After the dealer lectured me, I gave it right back.
"I won't tell you how to do your job, so don't tell me how to gamble on my vacation."
That was the nicer version of a line that I used many times over the weekend. During the lowest point of my MPGT of the trip, I warned the dealer that if she continued to harass me about the Fortune Bonus, I would rat her out to the pit boss and stop playing altogether. I just want to degen it up without anyone up-selling me on a losing proposition. In short, I played less Pai Gow this trip because of the annoying dealers. I hit and run much more and took those fuckers for a few hundred. Fuck your Fortune Bonus. That session, I walked away with a $5 profit. I usualy walk away $500 poorer and pissed to all hell.
I broke even at Pai Gow as Wednesday bled into Thursday morning and went over to the poker room to tilt locals and tourists. It took less than 15 minutes before I put a move on a Canuck in a Dockers who thought he was Daniel Negreanu. He ended up spewing his chips but none of those chips came my way. Alas, it was fun to tilt him nonetheless. I opened in early position with suited crap. I missed the flop but fired out anyway. He raised. I knew he had nothing, so I three-bet shoved. I could see the fear in his eyes as his lip quivered. I knew he was going to fold, but Hollywooded it up for a few minutes mainly to save face. I told him to stop wasting everyone's time and fold, especially the dealer's time since he gets more tips the more hands that he deals.
"You're preventing the guy from making a living," I said. "Jesus, just fold already. I'll show you my hand if you fold right now. Will that speed up your decision?"
He took thirty more seconds and tossed his hand towards the muck. I did the same. Fuck that clown for showboating. I didn't show my cards which tilted him even more. I tipped the dealer $5.
I hit up the Geisha Bar with AlCantHang shortly after noon on Thursday. That was the official beginning of the end. Caity was already at the bar and she was the first of many newcomers that I'd meet for the first time that weekend like Poker Grump (officially), JJOK, Butch Howard, and Bloody P. Also making a cameo was Travis (another part of the Maryland crew that I know because of Ricky Bobby) who eventually showed up for a bit for a drink, then snuck off to play cards. The Poker Gnome, Derek, StB, and Joe Speaker were among the first wave of drinkers to polish off the first bottle of SoCo with AlCantHang.
One blogger pulled the slickest prank of the weekend. This was his first gathering for the prankster so no one knew what he looked like as he wandered through the Geisha Bar like a lost tourist dragging his wheelie luggage behind him. He then pushed everyone aside and dropped a shot of SoCo on the bar right in front of Al... then disappeared into a thick crowd of tourists checking into the hotel.
"Who the fuck was that?" asked Al.
I shrugged my shoulders. Lightning36 eventually outed himself when he returned to the bar. Funny ass shit.
Pai Gow ensued. It wasn't even 3pm and everyone was rowdy. Al insisited on yelling "One time!" every time the dealer handed him his cards.
"Um, Al... you can't use a 'One-Time' chip at a Pai Gow table."
"Why the fuck not?"
Derek was cold-decked by a dealer named "Lulu" so he quickly bailed. I vowed to get his money and my money back. I scooped a $100 win with trip sevens and A-K up top, nut not before I had to deal with the constant bickering about me refusing to play the Fortune Bonus.
AlCantHang and I went to dinner at Burger Bar with Derek, Maudie, and Change100. He owed me a dinner after the Yankees beat the Phillies in the WSoB. Burger Bar is a Hubert Keller establishment and boasts the best gourmet burgers in Las Vegas. Al added foie gras to his burger and he ate every single morsel. BigMike summed up foie gras the best... "I love the smell of fear."
After dinner, the rest of the crew slowly trickled into the IP. It was evident right away that the gathering would be smaller than in previous years. In many ways, the economy affected the turnout. Aside from the first ever meet up in 2004, this might have been the lowest December turnout. As much as I missed many of my friends who couldn't make the trip, I welcomed the smaller and sleeker version. You had more quality time with people.
I eventually left the Geisha Bar around 4:20am when Iggy befriended a couple of suit-wearing Eurotrash guys sitting at the bar. I went upstairs to write and grab a nap. I got a text message a couple of hours later from Derek. Apparently, a drunken tourists talked so much smack to Iggy that Iggy issued a heads up challenge in the poker room for $2,000. The guy balked and they lowered the price to $300. When the dust settled, Iggy lost by a slim margin. But, the real winner was the IP which raked almost 50% of the money in play.
As soon as I got downstairs around 8am, the match was over. Derek and Iggy were sitting at the Geisha Bar with a furry hat while discussing the Top 5 Tom Cruise movies with the bartender and a Canadian tourists slurring her words while pecking away at video poker. Derek persuaded an old Asian man to give up his winter hat for the sum of $30. Iggy wore the hat and added a pair of pink-tinted Elvis glasses which he bought off of a sizzling-hot Polish chick.
As the morning evaporated and midday took over, AlCantHang and Caity were still up. They had logged almost 24 hours straight at the Geisha Bar. Caity more than earned her stripes on the first day.
While the late night crew hit the sack, I met Maudie for brunch at the Bellagio Cafe with Derek and Change100. The Bellagio serves the most delicious omeletes in town. After brunch, we snapped photos of the Christmas decorations. When I returned to the IP, I was ensconced in a world of pain. I tweaked my back and can't explain how it happened. I bought get a 20 minute massage to twist the kinks and knots out and luckily my buddy had extra Percocets to keep me on the field. There was no way I was going to sit out the rest of the weekend. The WPBT is like the Super Bowl of my friends' degeneracy.
I needed painkillers to keep me going and partying through the searing back pain. As a result of the meds, the remainder of the Las Vegas trip became a hazy chimera.
To be continued...
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