Monday morning I stepped out of a dark strip club into the police flashlight of the Las Vegas sun. Just a few hours earlier, I was the king of the world. I had rocked the blackjack table and walked away with quite a bit of the money I’d lost over the weekend. I was drinking at a pleasant, manageable pace. I planned to get back at a relatively decent hour so I could get a good night's sleep before my flight home. It would be a nice rebound for a weekend where fun had been much more plentiful than luck.
Then the booze started to flow more steadily, the dice started to roll at the craps table, and the almost inevitable trip to the strip club led to even more expensive drinks and tips. At 7:00 a.m., as I stumbled into a cab, my winnings nearly gone, I set the bar for victory at "not throwing up before I got to the hotel." (Victory was achieved, but it was close.) I asked the question everyone asks in Vegas:
"What was I thinking?"
The answer is I wasn't thinking, I was in Vegas.
Most cities are built on some economic principle. Access to waterways. A marketplace for nearby resources to be sold. A strategic location on a trade route.
Vegas is built on bad decision making. The entire city thrives on the power of people to make really stupid choices at a level they wouldn't make elsewhere. Drinking too much. Eating too much. Watching Wayne Newton too much. And, of course, gambling too much. The same way California bans foreign plants and produce from entry, Vegas bans common sense. It starts the minute you see the slot machines at the airport gate and continues until you’re tipping your cabbie in leftover fifty-cent chips from the Golden Nugget.
Friday I made my second pilgrimage to the Capital of Stupidity. I went with my brothers: Tickle, 28, a Vegas vet and the Earl of Excess; and Snake Anthony, 21, making his first trip. Tickle and I had bought Snake Anthony his plane ticket as a birthday present, essentially giving him a present that would cost Snake Anthony a few hundred dollars, dozens of hours of sleep, and at least a week off his life from buffet malnutrition alone.
Joining us were Tickle's friends, his noble Knights of the Round Craps Table: Sugar Ray, a cross between double-down Trent and the lead singer from Sugar Ray; Veetz, an engaged junior high teacher who could have given lessons in how to say the most inappropriate things at any given moment; And Z, who spent most of the weekend yelling at Sugar Ray and Veetz for cock blocking his attempts to find Mrs. Right Now.
We started out jovial and energetic, charging into the casino on Friday night, ready for at least a couple of us to light up the felt and walk away winners. We ended with losses, hangovers, indigestion, exhaustion, missed flights, missed opportunities, and one missing iPod.
So as a public service announcement, here are 10 bad decisions I observed in Vegas this past weekend.
10. Drinking drinks bigger than your head
In the wee hours of Monday morning, while I was winning at blackjack and still entertaining thoughts of keeping that money, Tickle and Snake Anthony were drinking margaritas. Not just any margaritas, but giant frozen margaritas served in a clear plastic cup shaped like a football. The drinks weighed about five pounds.
I tasted Tickle's white drink, a "banana" margarita. It tasted like someone had put a banana and a margarita in those teleporters from The Fly and merged them together, a zombie banana drink that would eat your brain.
Snake's was worse. In theory it was strawberry. In reality it was pure high school, where mixology mirrored teenage sex: awkward and amateur, with an emphasis on reaching the payoff as quickly as possible.
"Why are you drinking this?" I asked Snake Anthony.
He took another sip and grimaced. "I don’t know," he said. His lack of an answer didn’t prevent him from finishing it.
9. Ten pounds of meat
Eating in Vegas is like drinking in Vegas. You put as much as you humanly can in your stomach, take a breath, and add another 50-60% over capacity. You do this because the buffets mimic the casinos in terms of endless tantalization, and because you feel like you’re sticking it to the house if you eat 3000 calories in one sitting.
But just like the casino, the odds are in the house's favor. Even if you down three plates of crab legs, they still make money, and you wind up paying for it later (and regretting every bite). At my trip to the delicious Aladdin buffet, I ate pork, chicken, beef, ribs, kung pao, quesadillas, kabobs, mashed potatoes, asparagus, broccoli, apple pie, and crème brulee. Long story short, the house came out ahead and at one point I asked God to shoot a bolt of lightning up my ass if it would make the pain go away.
8. Wearing a T-shirt that not only says “MILF Hunter” but also illustrates the hunt
Making my way to a Sunday brunch of eggs, corned beef hash, sausage, and pancakes, I saw Sugar Ray wearing a camoflage T-shirt that said, "MILF Hunter" on the front.
The front of the shirt was Beverly Hills compared to the hillbilly backside: a cartoon silhouette of a man and woman having sex doggy style, with the man’s face smiling, a hunter's cap adorning his head. The man was labled, "Me," the woman, "Your Mom."
"That's the worst fucking shirt I've ever seen," I said.
"I can't believe you're going to wear that in public," one of the other guys said, to a murmur of agreement.
"Where else would I wear it?" Sugar Ray asked. Unfortunately, he stumped us with that one, and Sugar Ray proceeded to step out onto the Las Vegas strip in the worst T-shirt ever made.
(Ladies, there's a silver lining to this story below.)
7. Bringing kids
The Vegas brochures that try and pitch Sin City as family friendly should have a picture of the back of Sugar Ray's shirt, with a caption that says, "Come to Vegas and walk behind this T-shirt on the Strip—it's the perfect opportunity to explain to your eight-year old what a MILF is!"
The shirt was tame compared to the porno cards that endless streams of street-side vendors pass out. Ostensibly "nightclub" passes, many show women in poses usually reserved for the Internet. The sidewalks are littered with them, in perfect position for children to pick them up.
There should just be an ordinance: no one under 18 allowed. Build a gambling-free Circus Circus complex at the edge of town, give your kids $100 in quarters to play video games and buy hot dogs, and check your children like firearms, to be collected on your way back home.
(The only worse children-related idea I’ve ever seen was a national Lutheran Youth Organization meeting held in New Orleans. More than 35,000 Protestant teens confronting the seven deadly sins in the French Quarter. Let’s just say the Christians did better against the lions.)
6. Splitting Jacks
Speaking of ordinances, everyone who comes to Vegas should have to take a gambling literacy test. If you don’t pass, you can’t play anything other than slots.
At one point during my 857 hands of blackjack, someone actually split Jacks. For those of you that don’t know, this is three spots behind denying evolution on the logic scale. The dealer should have immediately pressed a button, summoning two pit bosses to fit the man with rubber mittens that would have prevented him from placing any more chips on the table.
These are the bozos that also hit on a 17 and take the Ace I need to make 21. I want to hurt them. Or at least give them a nasty paper cut with one of those nightclub cards.
The stupidest way to lose money in a city designed around losing money stupidly. Watch a ball spin around and hope you win. Wee! I’d rather drop $100 in a toilet and bet the house I could grab it before they flush it down.
The best part of roulette is watching people attempt to apply strategery to the art of randomness. And by people, I mean me. I tried to outthink the wheel of chance this weekend, believing that the last 12 numbers on one wheel were coming up more frequently and that I could win some money. A hundred dollars bought me 45 minutes of that illusion.
The silver lining to the MILF Hunter T-shirt: Lady Luck, deeply offended by Sugar Ray's T-shirt, punished him with the white hot ass-kicking fury of 1000 chorus lines at the roulette table. He was lucky to walk out of there with the offensive shirt on his back.
4. Acting like you know what you're doing when you bet on sports
There is a simple rule when it comes to betting on sports: you don't know shit. All the stat crunching in the world isn’t going to make the games any less predictable. Yet a steady diet of ESPN and fantasy sports convinces idiots like me that we know more than the people who make a living taking our money at the sports book.
On Saturday I placed a four-way parlay on the weekend's college basketball games, meaning I wagered the outcome of all four games on one bet, a $40 wager that would pay out $400. I should have remembered my last trip to Vegas, in March 2004. Tickle's friend Smoke, who works at a sports book, told me, "Anything over a three-team parlay is a sucker bet. We call them lottery tickets." Well call me Kojak, because I had a Tootsie Pop firmly planted in my mouth when I made not only the four-team bet, but two other bets on Memphis and Texas. I was sure at least one and probably two of these three wagers would be winners, especially my carefully crafted four-teamer.
Before the second game, the awful UCLA-Memphis game, was over, I was done.
I then proceeded to ignore an earlier instinct to bet George Mason to win—a 3 to 1 payoff—because Tickle talked me out of it, and I was stinging from my ignoble defeat on Saturday. George Mason of course won. They should give me tickets to their Final Four game, because had I bet on them, they would have lost by at least 40.
3. Strip clubs
I am an average guy in the exotic dancer department. I have been to strip clubs only a few times in my life.
Every single time, it sounds better on paper than it turns out to be in person. For me, strip clubs are the least erotic erotic activity around. I actually go only to have a few laughs with the boys. But in Vegas, why not have those laughs around a poker table, where I least have
2. Not sleeping
If alcohol is the Vegas Scylla, exhaustion is its Charybdis. Nearly every bad Vegas decision is sandwiched between the two. Sober and awake, I'm not only winning at blackjack, I'm actually taking money off the table to put in my pocket. Drunk and sleepy, I'm buying drinks for everyone, throwing chips all over the craps table, and thinking the strip club is a good idea. I don't realize what a drunk and sleepy fool I am until I am later awake and sober. It is the circle of life in Las Vegas.
1. Planning to go back
I'm not there yet, but I will be. I can already feel the weight of the football margarita in my hand.