Trips to Las Vegas rarely go how you expect them to (well, unless you're a boring person who doesn't take chances, then they do). Once in a while, though, the unexpected is ridiculously good.
Say, your car breaks down on the way there, but instead of sitting at home moping, you talk a hot blonde 19-year-old with a fast car into letting you drive it and her to Sin City, only to find that your room has been given to someone else. Then you somehow end up spending a day in the high rollers' suite at Mandalay Bay. It doesn't happen often, but Lady Luck can only smile upon a few select individuals at a time. When she smiled and winked at me and pinched my ass, I had a pretty memorable weekend
(Disclaimer: If you go to Vegas, you should never try going in a crappy beater car, and you should always, always bring a fast car and a hot blonde (unless you prefer brunettes or redheads or afros or whatever it is that pushes your hot button). Anyway, names have been changed and details left vague to protect the not-so-innocent and gainfully employed.)
A few years ago, I wanted to meet some buddies in Vegas. They'd booked us a room at Mandalay Bay, and we planned to spend a March weekend pissing money away at craps and roulette tables for fun. I was all set to go, and hopped into my old, beat-up'86 Subaru to make the trek across the desert from Santa Barbara, Calif.
It was a six hour drive, and I waited until nightfall to leave. But I didn't make it far. As usual, I'd been hooning the crap out of that old pile the week before, and it decided to take a shit as soon as I got on the freeway. The thing would not stay running for more than five minutes. Bummed that I wasn't going to be able to make it, I turned back toward home, simultaneously grateful that it hadn't crapped out somewhere east of Barstow.
The car sputtered and coughed as I pulled back into the driveway. I lived in a run-down house on Del Playa, the main drag in Isla Vista — the student ghetto next to the University of California, Santa Barbara — so several of my eight or so roommates were sitting on the porch drinking. My night seemed to be winding down, but theirs was just getting started.
I went inside, grabbed a lukewarm Keystone light from the fridge, and plopped down on our musty, stained couch, watching with a sullen expression on my face as scantily clad college girls and guys with sagging pants stumbled drunkenly back and forth on their way in and out of the front door. I was not happy that my plans weren't going to work out, and to make matters worse, I was way too sober to enjoy the blithe collegiate dumbfuckery going on around me.
Halfway through my third beer, I still hadn't let go of the fact that my weekend had been ruined by that goddamned car (or my failure to take care of it, rather). I didn't even really like Vegas all that much — it's not real. The amount of energy — human, fossil fuel, and otherwise — that goes into making it hum is too staggering for sober appreciation. Hell, look at the Luxor casino and you'll know exactly what I mean. It's a giant glass pyramid with a beam of light shooting into space. Astronauts have probably gotten sunburns from that thing. All that aside, Vegas is a great place to do ridiculous things with ridiculous people, and, well, look ridiculous.
Just as I was about to retire to the 1978 Holiday Rambler RV that was my bedroom (it was parked in the backyard amongst a knot of screaming, indiscriminately pissing coeds), she tottered through the door on a pair of sparkly heels. Dressed in a loose-fitting, skirt-dress thing made of some gauzy, also sparkly material, her face was heavily made up. I looked her in the eye, and after a moment, she met my gaze.
"Sandra! You look like you want to go to Vegas," I said with a sly grin.
She giggled, then paused.
"YES! You know I want to go to Vegas!"
Then her smile faded.
"I don't know. This party's pretty rad, too, and..."
"Yeah, but it's not Vegas," I said, cutting her off.
Long story short, I had my work cut out for me, but after a few hours of talking the good talk as she drifted in and out of the house with the ebb and flow of revelers, I talked her into going.
Sandra was the perfect Vegas companion. She was good looking and she had a 2006 Infiniti G35, just what I/we/anyone needed for an (at this point) impromptu Sin City getaway. My worries about the broken-down jalopy in the driveway disappeared as we drove to her house so that she could pick up another couple of outfits. With that necessary pitstop out of the way, there was nothing between us and Bugsy Siegal's desert oasis.
Normally, when I'm driving my own, underpowered car, I'm a pretty responsible driver. There's usually just no reason to go all that fast. But this wasn't normally — I was behind the wheel of a 300 hp sports car (admittedly not the fastest thing on the road, but still, when compared with my Subaru's anemic 84 hp mill...) and drove like a complete asshole.
Normally, it takes a while to get to Vegas from Santa Barbara. Normally, it's a six-plus-hour schlep. But again, this wasn't normally. It was 2 a.m., I had a nice car to drive, a nice companion to drive with, and my friends were bombarding my voicemail with pleas to get my ass to Vegas. We made the trip in four hours and 20 minutes, rarely dropping below 110 miles per hour as we sailed over empty desert tarmac.
I nosed the car into Mandalay Bay's main entrance just as the sun was beginning to glint on glass building tops and cast long, skyscraper shadows along the Strip. My friends were still up, and had instructed me to meet them in the lobby. There had been a problem with our reservation, it seems, and Mandalay Bay didn't have any rooms left for us because they'd given them all to a horde of people who had descended upon the city for a NASCAR race.
My friend Jim popped out to show us in, and had a strange grin on his face as the valet took the car away. Maybe his grin wasn't that strange — he'd clearly been drinking all night and hadn't been to sleep at all.
"What happened with the room," I asked, not eager for another hassle after my car had gone kaput.
"Follow me," he said, spinning on his heel and marching into the casino.
We snaked through the maze of slot machines and blackjack tables, making our way deeper into the casino, when he turned through a gap in a Baroque marble railing and into a coral with a dozen or so tables inside. There was one dealer and a guy wearing a suit playing blackjack. They eyed us warily as we walked toward a hallway at the back. We reached an elevator and he pushed its only button.
"What the fuck is this?" I asked.
"High stakes lounge, man," Jim mumbled, shuffling into the elevator with a giggle.
The elevator rose for a few minutes without stopping, then we felt that sickening slowdown you get when a speedy ascent slows down quickly. The door opened on a small hallway, and we walked to the end. Jim knocked on the door, and it creaked slowly open.
"Hey this fuckin' guy!" said the greasy haired guido on the other side. It was my friend Sal, piss drunk and wearing his characteristic white wife beater with a silver crucifix hanging around his neck. With dress pants, of course.
He swung open the door to reveal a massive, two story tall room with chandeliers, a baby grand, and a gigantic flatscreen TV on the wall.
"They ran outta rooms, so they gave us the fuckin' penthouse!" he croaked. A couple of the other guys were sprawled out on pieces of ornate furniture, motionless except for their cursory greeting nods and occasional reaches for whatever bottle of brown liquor happened to be nearby. The sun was coming up over the horizon, and the entire room was bathed in a warm glow as we drank in a picture perfect view of the Las Vegas Strip from the 44th floor.
I walked up a sweeping staircase to the suite's second floor, where there were bedrooms with huge four poster beds and mini fridges and flatscreen TVs that popped out of the furniture with the touch of a button. It even had its own gym, a bar, and an office. It was a level of luxury I'd never before experienced (and haven't again).
Our "room" — Mandalay's penthouse suite — was a $4,000 per night affair usually reserved for celebrities and visiting royalty and other big spenders, not a bunch of Banker's Club-swilling stronzi like us. But we made the best of it, reveling in our dumb luck, and in the attention of a 19-year-old blonde who mistakenly thought we were all such ballers. With the G35 and the free penthouse (and a copious amount of cheap whisky in our systems by noon), we felt invincible.
After freshening up a bit — i.e. guzzling more of the rotgut booze someone had picked up from a liquor store across Las Vegas Boulevard — we hopped into our elevator and headed back to the casino. There were seven of us, and we were all unshaven, wearing T-shirts and flip flops. The mystery blackjack player looked up again as we spilled out of the elevator. He stared at us, and to no one in particular, blurted, "Who the fuck are those guys?!" in an accent reminiscent of one of those track suited guys named Pauli who stands guard in an unmarked doorway under the elevated train tracks somewhere along New Utrecht Avenue in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.
So we weren't really high rollers. We sure as hell felt like high rollers in terms of luck though.
But all good things must come to an end, and even though I was a whole $40 up at roulette that afternoon — and I'm pretty sure one of our crowd was $2,000 up — we got the boot from our vaunted penthouse suite the next day and took up residence amongst the proles on one of the lower floors. Our new quarters were a bit cramped, but we made due, and reasoned that having a room that was only marginally better than a bus terminal bathroom with queen beds would make us more social anyway. In all its novelty, the penthouse had been hard to leave.
Jim, Sal and most of the other guys were pretty tired from their all-night penthouse drinking binge, so they all turned in for a disco nap as soon as our new headquarters was established. But my friend Ruben wanted to go to a strip club, so he threw on a suit, I donned my $25 thrift store tux, and we got a bunch of our money changed into ones. Sandra said she wanted to go, too. Who were we to say no to a voting adult? I had no idea where were were going, but Ruben seemed to know what he wanted, so the three of us hopped into a cab.
When we arrived, Lady Luck smiled again. Sandra had gotten all dolled up before we left the hotel room, so the bouncers at the club didn't even bother asking for her i.d. when we went in. The place Ruben had picked wasn't so much a strip club as it was a warehouse. Imagine if you took a Costco, replaced the shelving with runways and the overhead lights with black lighting, and the blaring sales desk intercom with smooth electronic music. Oh, and instead of 40-packs of batteries and 5-pound tubs of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter you just fill the place with naked women.
That's pretty much what this place was — a Pussy Costco, if you will. There were naked chicks everywhere. Ruben was beside himself, and grabbed the first one he could find for a private lap dance as I grumbled about the $12 drinks. It didn't take Ruben long to emerge from the shadowy labyrinth of private dance rooms, a sheepish grin on his face.
"I came in my pants," he said.
"Nice," I shot back. "So, you wanna get Sandra a lap dance, or what? I'll go in half with you."
She smiled, clapping her hands enthusiastically, scanning the room to see who she'd like to have bestow the twisted rites of Vegas womanhood on her.
"I waaannnnt ... that one," she said, pointing at a curly haired blonde with a frilly pink top covering her silicone chesticles. The stripper introduced herself, chatted with us for a few moments, and then got to work once the music started again.
Sandra giggled as the stripper gyrated and undulated and did all those other things strippers do, like taking off their clothes and rubbing their asses on people's laps. The giggling cut short, however, when the stripper got a bit too forward and tried to put her hand up Sandra's dress and into her panties. Y'see we were all Sinatra straight in Vegas — strictly booze — so Sandra wasn't on the kind of drugs the stripper appeared to be on. The touchy-feely ecstasy thing was an instant show stopper for her.
Just as well. The drinks were too expensive to stay there too long anyway, and Ruben had already gotten what he, uh, came for and probably needed to change his skivvies anyway. The other guys had extended their disco nap into full-on slumber by the time we returned to the hotel room, so the three of us went back down to the casino for a little more debauchery and money-losing fun until it was time to do it all over again after a few hours sleep.
Lady luck more or less drifted out of our lives after that. Dressed in our Cinderella rags, Sandra and I made the long, painful post-Vegas drive back to Southern California as my friends lost the rest of their money and headed for the airport. It was an anticlimactic end to a weekend full of various climaxes, but so it is with such things.
Since I'm neither a rock star, an oil company exec, nor a politician, experiences like that are few and far between. For me and my regular guy friends, it was the Vegas trip to end all Vegas trips. So I promised myself it would be the last one (I've broken that promise many times, always dredging up some other weird collection of ludicrous and unnecessary events ... you know, Vegas stuff).
We got back to Santa Barbara late, and with my last shred of energy, I punched the G35's throttle and brought it up to 136 mph on the home stretch. That kind of adrenaline is just what I needed to stay awake long enough to collapse into an exhausted heap. Sandra and I hadn't woken up married, dressed in express chapel Elvis theme wedding costumes (and none the rest of my cohort had gotten hitched to a hooker), so the weekend had largely been a success.
I thanked my lucky stars that I'd made it home in one piece without dying in an irresponsible driving-derived crash. As with my vow to avoid Vegas, I pledged never drive a car that fast again.
Only a few weeks later, as my friend John and I sat in the Infiniti in front of Santa Barbara Airport, I knew keeping to it would be impossible.
"Are you sure it's a good idea for me to let you guys take my car to Mexico?" Sandra asked just before catching a flight to her parents' house.
"Of course we're sure. It'll be fine," we both assured her, our faces set into the most grave expressions we could muster.
She disappeared into the airport lobby and we looked at each other, mischievous grins spreading across our faces.
"It's a terrible idea!" John said as we both cackled and slapped a high five. I turned off the traction control and hit the gas, leaving a light cloud of blue smoke as we headed toward the border.
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