I got back on a Saturday and slept most of the day. Around 2 or 3 in the morning I treated myself to a bowl of cereal. I couldn’t help but think about how young the night must still be in Vegas.
This is the story of a lucky man.
The woman at the United airlines baggage check-in told me that I’d be okay to bring both of my bags on-board. She seemed sweet and helpful so I nodded my head and proceeded to customs. When I got to security, things got confusing. After passing through the x-ray machine, one of the employees opened my bag to take some liquids out. I’d forgotten that I packed in a full size shampoo and body wash and I told him it was okay to throw them out. For some reason he put them back in and insisted that I go to the last minute baggage check-in. I’m not sure if he thought that I wanted to keep them, but it was twenty minutes to flight time and the lady at the desk told me it was too late to check in now.
“Can’t you move some things around, maybe make one bag smaller?”
I had no idea what she was talking about, but I was starting to feel the urgency of the situation and I began to shuffle the items between my two bags wildly. At some point, I removed a small black satchel and placed it on her counter. It contained the following items:
- glasses case containing a pair of clip-on shades
- package of wet napkins from Japan
- two USB cables and a wall charger
- iPod with about 4,000 songs on it
- $300 US dollars
It was the last time I would see those things. The clerk kept telling me that my flight was about to leave so I needed to hurry. I had no idea how close I was to missing my flight until I heard this announcement:
Last call for Alexander Lee, please proceed to gate F7. Last call for Alexander Lee…
You’ve never seen someone run so fast through an airport. Onlookers must have thought I was in love. Even weighed down by two bags, I was able to get down like Usain Bolt. I might have done 200 metres in about 20 seconds. And you bet I made the damn flight.
I was so exhausted that I slept all the way to Chicago. It wasn’t until I needed American money for some food at O’Hare that I realized what was missing. It was a sickening feeling and I talked to whoever I could to figure out how I should go about communicating with the folks at Pearson to recover my satchel. I called my parents. I made a mental note to e-mail the website as soon as I could. That’s really all I could do.
Without the contents of my iPod to stimulate me (I’d loaded several podcasts on there that I’d planned to listen to) and not feeling particularly tired I simply meditated for the duration of my flight to Las Vegas. It occurred to me that the following items were not in my lost satchel:
Like I said. Lucky.
This is Brian.
Brian is a doctor. I used to have this respectful admiration for the people in the medical community. When I was growing up, I associated doctors with being kind, reliable and noble. They seem like the kind of people who really care, who you believe were put on this earth solely to help others. When one of your best friends becomes a doctor, all of that crap goes out the window. Even though they’ve got this new title, you still end up having the same conversations and doing the same stupid stuff that you always said you’d do when you were kids.
On this occasion, Brian was flown in to give a presentation at a conference and he was given a reasonable amount of compensatory funds to take care of his food and travel expenses. What better way to take advantage of that than inviting a few friends to come with you? I was the only one who was able to make the trip and I’m grateful that he decided to let me tag along even though his colleagues kept assuming we were a pair of well-to-do homosexuals. It probably doesn’t help that we ended up going out with a gay couple on what was for all intents and purposes a double date. But I digress.
The point is that I used to be able to look at a doctor and see a pillar of the community. Now I just see my friend Brian.
As with any good Vegas vacation, it began with go-karts. Brian’s friends Helena, Grace and Eugene (a racing fanatic) decided it would be fun to check out the Fast Lap Indoor Kart Racing facility. I’ve never raced any sort of vehicle before, but I did almost get a speeding ticket once so I didn’t think it would be too difficult. After a few laps, I have a newfound respect for vehicular racers of all kinds. I’ve always been a staunch advocate against race car drivers being classified as athletes, but I realize now that you’ve got to be in decent shape because the vibrations from a high powered vehicle will mess you up. And I was driving a go-kart!
Several things I didn’t know about go-karts:
- even though you’re not going that fast, speed is relative to the space you’re moving in and since the track is indoors and the lanes aren’t that wide you find yourself genuinely afraid to let loose
- these bad boys handle incredibly well and there’s almost no resistance so if you’re planning to crank that wheel hard you better be ready to follow through otherwise you might find yourself in a pile of tires
- I found myself pressing down on the gas pedal for about 95% of the lap and it ended up hurting like a muthaf**ka. My lower leg was kind of messed up for the rest of the trip. Again: these are go-karts!
So Dale Earnhardt, if you’re up there somewhere and you’re reading this, I’d like you to know that I take back everything bad I ever said about you and your sport.
Afterwards, we chose to forgo the cab ride back in favour of a cooling walk back to the Bellagio. Eugene led us around like a Vegas strip Sherpa, taking us in and out of different casinos and hotels and somehow bringing us to where we needed to be. Apparently he and Grace have been to Vegas many, many times and the whole experience was old hat at this point. I was dazzled by the city sights, but I would eventually see how one might become numb to it all.
I had to drag Brian out of his room to check out the pool area at the hotel. As the Bellagio attracts a more esteemed, some would say “senior”, clientele, it wasn’t exactly the MTV bikini fest that a young man would hope for. The facilities were outstanding and there was no shortage of space, but if you go there looking to “pick up the chicks” as they say then you’re probably out of luck. Unless you’re, like, fifty.
Needless to say, as soon as we were able to find a comfy spot in the shade, Brian understood why I thought it was so important he check it out. The weather was hovering around 30 degrees Celsius and the thin Nevada air was surprisingly refreshing. You could spend the early part of the day wasting away there and that’s exactly what I did when Brian had to go to his conference. I completely lost track of time as I alternated between sleeping and peaceful contemplation. I thought about how too few people get to live like this on a regular basis and I swore I’d make the most of it…after another quick nap, of course.
Planet Hollywood proved to be a source of much merriment. We ate a couple of meals there, including taking advantage of an “all you can eat” pancake deal…which, for me turned out to be three. I made the mistake of wearing my favourite orange shirt that day, which just happened to match the attire of the servers at the restaurant. I kept expecting the manager to yell at me, wondering why the hell I was sitting around eating with a customer. I’m kind of a pushover, so if he’d ordered me to start serving some dishes I probably would have done it.
After a hearty meal (three whole pancakes!), we decided to kill time by playing some poker. Fact: I had never played poker in a casino before. I was incredibly tense and nervous, even as I found myself wedged between two Irishmen who couldn’t be friendlier. I believe their names were Sean and Patrick, but I believe all Irishmen are named Sean and Patrick. They could sense I was new blood and they started jawing right away to set me at ease or maybe just to see if I was easy money. Maybe both.
After a while I did loosen up, going as far as to accuse them of faking their accents and actually being two hustlers from San Diego and also asking them what it takes to be an honourary Irishman. “I don’t drink. The Irish aren’t big on drinking, right?” I deadpanned. It was a good time. All of the witty banter almost made me feel better about the fact that I was bleeding chips. If my jokes were loose, my actual poker playing was the exact opposite: I was tighter than a (insert virgin-oriented simile here) on (insert common moment of sexual awakening). I played horribly and the money didn’t last long.
While Brian was off fulfilling his conference related duties, I spent most of the day at the pool. Bobbing up and down in 3 ½ feet of water wasn’t as exhilarating as I would have liked, especially since I was there by myself and I kept checking to make sure nobody stole my shoes. I got comfortable and probably looked like the clumsiest, loneliest goof in the world navigating the pool aimlessly. I didn’t care. I felt free.
Another thing I did when Brian wasn’t around was check out parts of the strip that one might miss when walking around with a friend. The Cosmopolitan is another swanky casino with incredibly well furnished upper levels primarily reserved for housing guests and hosting conferences. There was nice art and a cool art-deco vibe that would have fit perfectly in a movie looking for a retro-futuristic aesthetic.
It was the perfect time to do this sort of thing too: Middle of the day, nobody around, the evening conference goers killing time at the casinos or enjoying some afternoon delight. That’s the thing about Vegas. From an architectural standpoint it can seem messy, but the individual parts can be a sight to behold. It’s a cliché, but going from building to building is like transporting between worlds. The Roman trappings of Cesar’s Palace. The upscale atmosphere of the MGM grand. And in the distance, the awful turrets of Excalibur.
Our third day in Vegas proved to be the most enjoyable. Brian finished up his official duties as a representative of the Toronto medical community so it was time to open the cage and let the animal out. We both decided to wear suits, which for some reason inspired us to freestyle a racist standard that we thought Frank Sinatra might have sung in his day. I went with the always un-fashionable “button up but don’t wear a tie look”.
We had to get dressed up because we were spending a portion of our evening at a cigar bar called Casa Fuente. Our disguise worked, because when we got there, a helpful employee walked us into the humidor and started going over the cigar selection as if he thought we knew something about the product. We know nothing about the product. I believe, “Uh…how about that one?” were my exact words when it came down to deciding. Thankfully, even though our plebeian roots were showing, the guy was cool about it even walking us through the whole cigar lighting procedure (which I needed, sadly). The pretty waitress didn’t even give me too much crap about ordering a glass of water, though she did make a face as if she couldn’t understand the words coming out of my mouth. Can you blame her?
I’m not sure why I like cigars so much. The image is a huge part of it, but there’s definitely something to be said about the taste and texture of a good stogie. We had fun sharing stories with Brian’s friends Andrea and Helena, though the most amusing bit was probably Helena’s inability to keep her cigar lit. “Amateur.” I thought to myself. That was moments before I accidentally inhaled too much smoke and almost ended up vomiting on an escalator. Our waitress really would have been impressed by that one.
Andrea and Helena also made the excellent recommendation to check out Wild Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon. The fact that there was no “G” at the end of “gambling” told you this joint was legit. It was actually the perfect place for people like us, because the dealers were good at their jobs but they didn’t have that clinical approach that you often see at some of the higher stakes casinos. It was a small building, but they packed it with everything you expect in a casino. As Brian and Helena won money (and Mardi Gras beads) and made friends at the blackjack table, I moseyed on over to the karaoke stage. There were a group of drunkards monopolizing the microphone for most of the night, but I eventually mustered up the courage to get up and do a song. I chose “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor, one of my mother’s favourites. It’s also an up-tempo tune. I love singing sad stuff, but when you’re in Vegas and everyone is trying to have a good time, you have to respect the audience. I made up for my weak vocals with some spirited hip thrusts, capped off by me giving a middle-aged woman a twirl from the edge of the stage.
Afterwards, I had to help Brian home as his blackjack success allowed him to enjoy an ample supply of free drinks. They were filming scenes for The Hangover Part III, but for some reason we couldn’t get it out of our heads that it might have been Ocean’s Fourteen (a production that doesn’t exist). Our repeated attempts to call out Casey Affleck and Scott Caan went unanswered, lost in the hustle and bustle of the strip.
Our culinary choices during the trip were all over the place. One night we’d be sampling the delights of a fully stocked buffet, the next we’d be picking up twenty chicken nuggets from McDonald’s (only five dollars!). Not being a foodie, dining is really an obstacle for me to get past before I can move on to my next experience, especially in a place like Vegas. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the delicious, sophisticated meal I ate at Estiatorio Milos, but I got just as much satisfaction from the “steak & shake” I devoured at the Hard Rock. Considering how overindulgent the latter meal was and the setting in which it was served, I found myself referring to that combination as “the Elvis”.
The second round of gambling went as poorly as the first, though it was equally enjoyable, albeit in a different way. While the action at the Planet Hollywood was light and fun, the atmosphere at the MGM Grand was far more cutthroat. I sat down and immediately noticed the big cat at the table, a grizzled, mustachioed looking fellow from Canada. After a few hands and a few glances at the other players, I could tell he was in a rhythm. His bets were all on point, getting everyone to fold or dragging just enough suckers in so he could take the wind out of their sails with two pair or trips. Even his dialogue was controlled, opening up just enough to be polite, but not enough to give a single weakness away.
My play was better, though still atrocious. I was working through Phil Gordon’s Little Green Book chapter by chapter and I clumsily used what I could from there even though my overall understanding of the game was still non-existent. Nevertheless, I gained no small amount of satisfaction from raising on the blinds and watching the others limply toss their cards away. Too bad I had no idea where to go from there. If I was winning, my moves might have been tolerated but I was not only the pest at the table, I was also the sucker. Whenever I got a decent hand, my eyes darted around like I was on bath salts. I played horribly and the money didn’t last long.
As the fourth night wound down, the magical pixie dust of Vegas quickly faded from our eyes. We spent much of a three course meal discussing matters back at home, something we’d managed to avoid for most of our trip up to that point. It didn’t help that we had to check out early in the day, about twelve hours before our actual departure. We ambled around, bouncing from souvenir shop to souvenir shop (they all looked the same) and trying to make sure we had enough tip money to take care of the various attendants we knew we would encounter. It got so bad that we ended up hitting a movie theatre to catch Skyfall. “That’ll be a good way to kill three hours.” I lamented. When you’re on your last hours and lost dollars of a Vegas vacation, that’s the kind of stuff you find yourself saying.
When we got home, I checked two lost and found areas and talked to everyone I could at Pearson, but I had to accept that my belongings were gone. It was a bitter pill to swallow, only because the trip had worked out so well otherwise and I had been incredibly optimistic that the satchel would turn up. I got over it. What’s gone is gone. Maybe I was too worn out to fuss over it. Brian and I continued to talk about Vegas as we got on the subway, though it started to seem more and more like some far off place. I made sure to express my gratitude for him bringing me along. We planned to return to Vegas sometime, with reinforcements. We split at Yonge station and on the train ride north, the lost things seemed inconsequential.