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If you’ve never been to Las Vegas you might think it involves getting drunk, marrying a stripper and getting attacked by a naked Asian man trapped in your trunk. It’s not. For me it was about getting robbed, taking a photo with the guy from “The Hangover” and meeting a $500 lobster.

The hotels in Vegas fall into three categories: cheap, this is nice and can we afford this? The Bellagio and Wynn are at the top, there are a few in the middle and a bunch at the bottom. I went with The Mirage, because their pool had waterfalls.

Day 1.  The flight out was uneventful and our first stop was the pool where the palm trees swayed and the wait staff had long, tan legs (and that’s just the guys). I was excited to order a Pina Colada until the waitress handed it to me and said, “Twenty dollars.” Ouch.

An afternoon at the pool was followed by a walk on the strip. As I approached Caesars Palace, the spot where they filmed “The Hangover”, I ran into one of its stars. I knew you wouldn’t believe me, so after giving “Zach Galifianakis” a dollar he posed for this picture and said I was now an honorary member of his wolfpack. Feeling a bit like Bradley Cooper, I retired to my room when I heard an explosion and dashed to the window. The entire front of the hotel was on fire with lava flowing everywhere. I phoned the front desk in a panic and they told me that was the show the Mirage puts on every night and urged me to drink another $20 Pina Colada and never call them again.

Day 2.   I wanted to visit “Pawn Stars”, but heard it was impossible to get in, so I went at 7am. Brilliant strategy except the store didn’t open until 9am. As the cab pulled up we saw  the star of the show – “Chumley” – outside, but by the time we parked he was gone. We killed time by walking around and I saw the tiny church where Jon Bon Jovi was married. I was about to sing my rendition of “Living on a Prayer”, but a police car rolled by and I was afraid they might tase me in the face.

When Pawn Stars opened we got right in. It’s exactly as you see it on television, only smaller, and most of the items are way out of your price range unless you want to pay $20,000 for a first-edition book. Chumley was in the back, but never stuck his head out to say hello so we bought souvenir t-shirts and left.

Back at the hotel I was starving, so I called room service and ordered the cheapest breakfast they had – eggs, bacon, toast and coffee. It cost $52. Since I paid so much I took the two tiny ketchup bottles that came with my breakfast and told my female companion to bring them home. She rolled her eyes and put them in her bag.

After another day chasing waterfalls at the pool, I took my girl to the nicest hotel in Vegas –Wynn – for a fancy dinner. Since we arrived early I stopped into the casino and put $20 into a slot machine. I thought it was a penny machine so imagine my fright when I hit the lever and realized I just played 80 QUARTERS, not pennies. My whole twenty bucks was about to disappear in one spin when it happened: I accidentally won $160, enough to buy dinner.

The highlight of our meal wasn’t the food, but a waiter with a funny accent pushing around a glass case filled with live exotic lobsters. Each came with a story explaining why it was so expensive and one, I kid you not, was flown in from Australia and cost $100 per pound. It weighed five-and-a-half pounds so I’ll let you do the math. We did not order the lobster.

Day 3. Day three was “show” day. It started with a trip to the Secret Garden at the Mirage, complete with a dolphin show and white tigers; both were amazing. Then a trip to New York, New York and a show called “Zumanity”. It should be called Cirque du Soleil with no clothes on. Fun show, but leave grandma home.
Time to gamble. I won’t play anything called “craps” for sanitary reasons; blackjack costs ten bucks per hand and I’ve seen the movie “Rounders”, so there was no way I was going near the poker room to let Matt Damon roll me. That left slots. After stepping away from a machine I realized I left my voucher so I turned around to retrieve it. Gone. Five seconds hadn’t passed and someone stole my money. Yes, in the hotel designed to be exactly like New York City someone robbed me. Oh, the irony.  Broke and tired, we end day three.

Day 4. The trip home was a nightmare. We arrived two hours early for the flight so there wouldn’t be a problem, but as we went through security my companion had a big one. The x-ray showed something suspicious in her bag and she was told to stand aside and not make any sudden moves. As they ripped through her carry-on looking for this dangerous item, strange things started going through my mind: has my gal been living a double life? Is she a spy? Am I in love with the female version of Jason Bourne? “Ah ha,” the security guard exclaimed, as he pulled the suspicious item from her bag: the tiny bottles of ketchup I made her take home. I wondered at that moment what it felt like to sleep on the couch.

As we waited to board out flight a healthy, young woman sat behind me and told her friend, loudly and proudly over the cell phone, how she just “faked” having a disability so the airline would give her an early boarding pass. She was laughing. I thought about confronting her, but did the next best thing – I ratted her out.  I went to the woman at the counter and told her what I heard, even pointing the woman out. The worker just frowned and said, “Yeah we know, it happens all the time but federal law says we can’t question people so that’s just the way it goes.”

As darkness came and our flight chased the sunset from west to east, I gazed into the night sky and said a silent prayer that someday that woman who lied about having a disability would get hers. Just then a baby started crying and didn’t stop for a solid hour. I’m pretty sure that kid was sitting right next to Miss Fake Disability. I closed my eyes and smiled; as it turns out I was a winner after all.  

John Gray is weekely columnist for the Troy Record and the Saratogian newspapers and news anchor at ABC 10 and FOX 23. He can be reached at johngray@fox23news.com.

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