Sunday, October 11, 2009

Las Vegas Trip Journal

I kept a journal of the recent holiday, and here it is with only the spelling corrected - there's a lot about the flight because I get so bored and ratty on long haul flights:

Thursday October 1st

06:18 Ipswich Station

Always wish I’d travelled lighter, although the bag isn’t that heavy. In a happy mood but had somehow expected to be euphoric; have looked forward to this day for about five months now. Just checked for ticket/passport/money. Everything else is a bonus. Hope the books are good – rather dreading the flight.

06:55 Train to Liverpool Street

Reading Nick Hornby’s The Complete Polysyllabic Spree a collection of reviews. Reminded of the huge chasms of bigotry in my psyche. For instance I can’t stand American comedy – Nick makes a reference to Sienfeld, a comedy with one tiny flaw; it isn’t remotely funny. Then there’s my complete hatred of musicals and opera. Big flaws.

08:13 Victoria Station

Just did the tube from Liverpool Street to Victoria. Felt happy seeing all the grim faced commuters and pretty girls. One young babe had holes in her leggings just behind each knee. Wondered if this was simple poverty or absent-mindedness or a calculated look? Whatever it made her the more lovely.

08:15 Gatwick Express

Leaves on time! Not worried about making the flight now.

10:15 Gatwick Airport

Las couple of hours have passed really quickly. A 30 minute really slick train ride to Gatwick passing through Purley where my best friend lives. Followed by an easy and impressively quick automated check-in for Virgin Atlantic at the South Terminal.

Things start to go pear shaped at the l-o-n-g security queue, although the chirpy good humour of the staff (too few of them) helps a bit. Got a surprise at the end – they get almost everyone to remove their shoes and run them through an X-ray machine. Perhaps in 20 years we’ll all be separated by gender and queue up naked.

Arrive at Gate 31 followed by the cabin crew who come up through the gate, immaculately uniformed and made up with not a loose hair amongst them. Funny how the men are all so obviously gay – there must be a straight cabin attendant somewhere. No sign of the pilots – they must be in the cockpit already.

11:30 In the plane on the ground at Gatwick

Really quite angry with security at the gate. Made me take off my shoes AGAIN damn it and made me late boarding by going through the entire contents of my wallet. Asks me how long I’m staying. Tells me he wants to see happy faces when I glare at him, and ‘I’m only doing my job.’ Yeah right.






12:12 Still in the plane on the ground at Gatwick

We’re coming up to being an hour late for take-off now – I’m wondering if we’ve missed our slot due to security arrangements? My mood is not improving – the flight is long enough even if everything goes to plan.

12:16 Still in the plane on the ground at Gatwick

A passenger has just shouted "I'm bored! I'm bored! I'm bored!"

12:55 BST Over the Irish Sea

Plane took off at about 12:20. I’m OK now – feeling calm and happier. Am watching the navigation channel on the seat-back screen; we’re 261 miles from Gatwick at 32,000 feet – that’s about six miles up. Ground speed is 539mph so we must be butting into a headwind; the jet-stream most likely. A chilly -59F outside.

13:00 in the plane = 05:00 in Las Vegas. Flight time will be 10 hours and 13 minutes. Oh and I’ve just discovered we actually took off at 12:22. (4916 miles to go at 13:10).

13:15 in the plane

Just cleared the coast of Ireland. The three young blokes in the seats in front are going to ruin their hearing – I can disingush actual dialogue from the film they are watching over the ambient noise of the cabin and the roar of the engines!

15:22 in the plane

We’re over the Atlantic approximately 200 miles South of Greenland. Just had my first drink of the flight (Coke which was yummy). 3 hours and 2 minutes into the flight. Not feeling too bad at the mo, although the bloke sitting next to me is getting on my tits. He keeps making disparaging remarks about this plane compared to the ones of Singapore Airlines and keeps trying to tell me about New Zealand. I’m sure NZ is a lovely country but I’ll never go there because the flight is too long.

16:03 in the plane

We’re nearly past the Atlantic Ocean now and approaching the Canadian coast near Goose Bay. The boredom is beginning to really eat away at me now. I’ve done a more or less full day at work in terms of time and there is still a massive 3387 miles to go… We’ve travelled 1909 miles which is pretty much my limit on a plane. Going to start reading a guidebook soon.

16:55 in the plane

Near the coast of Canada. The crew are about to serve sandwiches and ice cream as a sort of tea, although I believe we’ll get dinner later on as well. Still 2971 miles from Las Vegas. I hate this. It’s been 4 hours and 36 minutes since we started and I’ve had enough.

17:17 in the plane

Just seen land for the first time since we left Ireland behind. There’s a dusting of snow on hundreds of miles of lakes and tundra. Horrible landscape.

17:37 in the plane

We’ve just climbed to 36,000 feet and are over the Northernmost part of Canada – the Hudson Straight is too our right. Feel better again – perhaps it’s the food, perhaps it’s the fact that I can see hundreds of miles of tundra below us, maybe it’s the anticipation that half the journey is done – should be downhill from now on.

17:39 in the plane

Have just passed the half-way mark – half way there! Also our ground speed is up to 530mph which is encouraging. Still South of Ungora Bay.

18:37 in the plane

Over James Bay heading towards Thunder Bay. In turbulence right now which has been quite strong and quite often this flight. Ground speed is up to 621 mph, altitude is at 36,000. Just over 2000 miles to go which on this crazy trip feels quite close. Well over half way there now! 3255 miles flown in 6 hours and 18 minutes. Due North of that place where the three Great Lakes converge.

19:43 in the plane

About to cross the border into United States airspace, with an incursion into Minnisota or North Dokota a few miles East of Winnipeg. 1342 miles to go but they will be tough ones. Getting really annoyed with the bloke next to me – he will not SHUT THE FUCK UP!

20:07 in the plane

Trying to decide where to have brekkie/late night/early morning meal. Peppermill might be good if I get the strip bus. Basic priority if to check in, pay the hotel bill immediately and get some sleep. Get some money from an ATM. Sleep! Think we’re over North Dakota now…

20:30 in the plane

The optimist in me says we’re under the two hour mark now. Hopefully Virgin will feed us some dinner before then which will use up some time and finally the engines will be throttled back and we’ll start our descent. We’re about to leave North Dakota and clip the state of errrrr Montana perhaps?

21:03 in the plane

Over the Big Horn Basin in Wyoming. Just nearly had a major loss of temper – the old man again. I’ve seldom had a more irritating companion for a flight ever. 4576 miles from Gatwick 644 miles to Las Vegas. Just got to keep it together for another hour or so. There’s never any problem once they cut the engines and we start to descend.

13:21 local time, still in the plane

I’m going to sign off and pack up now. We’re less than 480 miles away, the view of the desert is awesome, and we’ll be starting our descent soon. Can’t express how happy I’ll be to get off this plane!

Friday October 2nd

A room with a view

05:10 The Plaza Hotel and Casino, Downtown Las Vegas

Went to sleep at 6pm yesterday – it took ages to clear security at McCarron because the US now takes the finger prints of everyone who visits the country. Typically, there were no less than eight (yes eight) officers to do this for several plane loads of passengers. One of the many legacies of Good ole Dubya; the Department of Homeland Security. What a tub of filth.

Room 1945

Then there was a wait for the bus, followed by a rather long but interesting bus ride on the 108 which passes down Paradise Road to the East of the strip. Check in at the Plaza was friendly and efficient and they’ve given me a lovely room. Unbelievably cheap at $26 a night; just over £16.

Got up at around midnight, had a shave and a long hot shower and jumped into a 2-4 Hold-Em game at the Golden Nugget. Played from about 1 till 4:30AM, won $25 playing competent unflashy poker, trying to ease myself back into the swing of it. My companion at the table was a guy called Jim Eck and his wife, who live near Chicago. The Nugget are having a prize draw with three Harleys to give away on Saturday night. Jim and wife won’t be there then, so we made a pact that if one of his tickets won, we’d sell the motorcycle on E-Bay and split the profits 50/50.

14:29 Plaza.

Just back from another rather wonderful three hour sit at the Golden Nugget – had some incredible cards and won $148, which is a staggering win at 2-4 level. The only snag is sooner or later the dreaded ‘regression to the mean’ will kick in, and I’ll end up giving it all back – you simply can’t win that sort of money at 2-4 and expect to hold onto it!

Saturday 3rd October

Love to sit here outside the Plaza before bedtime drinking an ice cold Coke and people watching

01:51 – Plaza

Another fantastic session at the tables, this time playing 3-6 at the Mirage, my old battleground in Las Vegas. Still a rather well lit, clean and efficiently run poker room, despite being eclipsed by various other rooms these days. Up until the late 1990s, the Mirage held the biggest toughest poker games in the world on a regular basis. Not that I came anywhere near them, although even 6-12 could get interesting at times. This time I managed to win $108 in about 90 minutes. This is far too good to be true!

A suspiciously friendly girl called Nikki chatted to me at the bar of the Wynn afterwards. I suspect she was one of the many week-end warriors of Las Vegas, we parted with e-mails and phone numbers. I may buy her lunch at some point next week, she works down town and I can use the lunch to assess her a bit more. Normally women never chat me up, unless they want to charge for a fuck directly afterwards…

Felt wonderful today – haven’t been this happy in years.

06:45 Plaza

Just had a nice shock – woke up thinking it was Sunday when of course it’s still Saturday! Such are the effects of Las Vegas and jetlag.

Here’s a list of things to do today:
  • Attend the free motorcycle draw outside the Golden Nugget – you got a ticket for any poker hand better than a flush, and I have a total of 7, including those that came from Jim Eck and his wife. Obviously there are several thousand tickets in the drum, but the odds have got to be better than any state lottery or even a manufacturer’s give away. I reckon there’s something like a 1 in 500 chance of winning, maybe as low as 1 in 250.
  • Play a hand or two of Black Jack, using my free coupons that came in a coupon book that came with the room at the Plaza. The Fetish Pit at the Las Vegas Club next door which features “the hottest dealers in Las Vegas” sounds like a fun venue for this!
  • Play at the Plaza poker room, as I get $5 worth of free chips if I buy in for $20 or more. The usual buy in for me in a 2-4 game is $100, so this is free money in every sense of the word…
18:54 Plaza

First losing session of the holiday – lost $75.50 at the Plaza in a painful session where I didn’t get much to play and what I did got nailed. Biggest loss was losing a flush over a flush (always a risk at low limit) and getting trip Jacks flushed on the river (another typical low limit scenario). Slightly on tilt towards the end and not playing well so I left the table before things got worse after a 4 hour sit. One strange point – have yet to have been dealt pocket Aces on this holiday – hope they turn up soon.

20:50 Plaza

Lost another $51 playing Blackjack in the ‘Fetish Pit’ at the Las Vegas Club – all for a stinking $5 coupon! What an idiot I am! The pit is evil – pure evil. Do not play pit games! There – I won’t do it again.

Next up – the motorcycle draw, held outdoors on a stage just in front of the Nugget. Followed by some 4-8 at Binions, hopefully.

Sunday 3rd October

00:52 Plaza

Well, no motorcycle, although winning the damn thing would have been a bit of a nightmare! I was pleased to see at least three of the people who did get drawn to win the motorcycles were genuine biker types who would just love a big Harley (they drew five names, with the losing two people getting a load of free play coupons and free accommodation at the Nugget).

Afterwards I went into Binions to discover an impressively renovated poker room but none of the old dealers or floor managers there any more. Lost $30 playing 3-6 in a miserable session that featured rags after rags after rags. My highest pocket pair was 99, and I got sod all else to play. Gave up after a couple of hours. Hopefully today will be better, although I knew after such a great run of cards in the first few days it was bound to dry up sooner or later...

18:10 Plaza

Today started badly enough – I got up early to get the bus along Washington Avenue to attend a group tennis lesson at the Darling Tennis Centre. But the driver wasn’t sure where it was, so as soon as I saw some tennis courts I rang the bell and got off. Bad decision – it was a public park with some nice tennis courts. A friendly player tells me the DTC is five miles (!) further up Washington Avenue. Oh dear.

Wait wait wait for the next bus, and realisation dawns that it’s Sunday and the bus services aren’t going to be very frequent. Oh dear. Cross the road and feel rather vulnerable hanging around in a bad district – lots of poverty and depravation. Ended up waiting 90 minutes to take the bus back downtown. Grrrrr! Will give it another go tomorrow…

Regrouped, had some late breakfast/early lunch and tried the 2-4 game at the Nugget once again. Another good session, with a sold $69 win after 5 hours of play. Made some great laydowns and one or two successful bluffs, which is hard to do at low limits. Very pleased with the way I played this session!

Monday 4th October

01:50 Plaza

Just back from the Mirage where I played 3-6 with a few very good players at the table waiting for a 10-20 game to get off the ground. Won $17 and was glad to escape the session while ahead – there were lots of semi-bluff raises and re-raises coming from the good players, while the usual weak/tight and passive 3-6 players didn’t stand a chance.

Took a few pictures tonight on the bus up to the strip and on the long blissful walk back from the Mirage to the Sahara – my favourite walk in the world.

Couple of unemployed locals were chatting gloomily at the Sahara bus stop – a reminder that this recession has hit America hard.

10:30 Plaza

There’s always a childish delight in drawing the curtains to reveal another perfect sunny hot day! Wonder how long you’d have to live here before it because routine and the magic wore off? Several years if you like the heat and sun as much as me…

14:45 Plaza

Won again! Another $74 to the good playing 2-4 at the Nugget – I’m just destroying the game there – this is amazing!

23:55 Plaza

Had a really nice afternoon tracking down the Gamblers Bookshop, which has moved from it’s decades long location downtown and is now sited three or four miles away on Tropicana Avenue near the university. I got the 108 back up Paradise to the Trop crossroads and then walked the rest of the way past the university and got to the shop about 20 minutes before it closed. No worries – I know exactly what I want; Small Stakes Hold Em - Winning Big With Expert Play by Miller, Sklansky and Malmuth. Also buy Roy Cook’s second book. Get a free keyring for spending $50. Whopee do.

Still plenty of daylight left so pop into the Crown and Anchor pub next to the university to sit out in the garden and read the new books. A friendly group of students invites me over to their table – it’s lovely to chat with slim young articulate Americans – such a charming and friendly people and much maligned. Always a laugh to see how one culture attempts to recreate another – the pub is authentic in many respects, hopeless in others! I’d forgotten how popular darts is as a game on college campuses. I’m told lots of ex-pats do visit the pub, mainly for the football which is broadcast on large screens inside.

Later in the evening I played some 2-4 at the Plaza – didn’t really go well and I was lucky to escape with a $7 win. Always satisfying when you can come back from being behind.

Tuesday 5th October

18:55 Plaza

Just back from a rather unpleasant sit at the Nugget – managed to lose $83 in a stinking session that saw some nice hands cracked (Aces, finally, twice – both cracked on the river). The icing on the cake was a rather nasty oriental gentleman who took great delight in slow rolling my two pair to reveal trips… Not nice. May have another shot at the game tonight, or may try the 4-8 game at the Venetian.

Earlier this morning I finally made it to the Darling Tennis Centre and participated in a 90 minute group tennis lesson that was great fun. The instructor, a chap called Dorian was a really impressive player, one of the many who perfected their trade in the very competitive US college circuit, but who could quite make the transition to fully professional status (or maybe he had more sense?). Whatever, he’s got to be the best player I’ve ever hit with – just beautiful strokes! Really nice crew doing the lesson too – friendly and accommodating.

Wednesday 6th October

01:20 Plaza

Well the dreaded regression to the mean has definitely arrived! Lost $91 playing 4-8 at the Venetian in an eminently beatable game. Do wish I’d discovered the V early on in the week. It’s a beautiful big popular poker room with at least two 4-8 games going at any time.

Forgot to mention I met a nice girl called Jacqueline playing at the Nugget yesterday and it was she who suggested the Venetian. We have a tentative arrangement to meet up on Thursday evening.

Right! Bed now as I’d like to take another shot at the tennis class tomorrow…

23:06 Plaza

Got up too late for the tennis (fool!) but did manage to have a hit on the hotel court with a nice guy from Boston called Jeffery, a freelance sports journalist. We had a good chat about New England, and the differences between there and the South Western USA.

Just back from an epic 4-8 session at the Venetian – still can’t get the hang of that game! Had some bad luck and miserable cards and ended up giving up after 5 hours, $65 down. Don’t think it’s my play that’s causing this – I made some correct folds and played tight when needs be and loose in family pots with suited connectors. Just couldn’t hit a flop!

Do hope tomorrow’s session goes well – I’m due at the damn place!

Friday 9th October


Lost again in a hellish session at the Venetian which was very disappointing as at one stage I was up $50+. Should have quit there with a smile on my face but oh no, had to play some more and ended up losing again, this time $123 down. Really didn’t get too many cards and when I did I ran into a full house (ouch) or trips. Both killer hands – the trips in particular was well concealed. Think I’m playing ‘big hands’ like Aces and Kings too aggressively and not releasing them when it’s clear they are beaten…

Decided to play the final session of the holiday at the Nugget, which naturally was awful as well. Decided to play until I won a hand. Had to wait 1 hour and 55 minutes to do so; and ended up another $35 down. The frustrating thing is these games, particularly the one at the Venetian are very good and beatable – I’m just running bad at the moment. A real shame I can’t return tomorrow and see if things would be different!

Never mind I’ve had a great holiday – played some nice tennis yesterday in the group lesson, and had a nice meal with Jacqueline, who’s daughter dances in a show at the Riv, I think she said.

Can’t wait to return next year!