Friday, December 30, 2011

Vegas Photos

Many of these made it into the trip report. Some didn't. I hope you like them.  The whole set can be found here. Nearly every one looks better viewed larger, so I suggest clicking on them. It's about time I redid this place so it was more photo-friendly.

The Best
The best gin & tonic I've had. Can't wait for the next.

This guy started our Neon Boneyard tour

Yucca tree, in neon

Sassy One
The signs just pile up. I keep seeing this as Sassy Sally's Binions

Some bits and pieces may someday spell something.


Skull in the Desert
Giant skull. Desert. Not creepy at all.

Sunset Behind the Strip
I think this is my favourite shot from the whole trip.

View From the A
Really, not that bad a view.

Away from the Madness
This one is close to my favourite.

Curve Away
And this one gives the favourite a run for its money too.

Come and Go
I spent far too much time playing with long exposures.

Welcome to Crystals
Without the 3D effect, it's actually kind of a dull shot.

Kept a-Rollin'
Bellagio's winter display.

Paris, But Not
Not really Paris

Misplaced Lady Liberty
Also, not New York, but don't tell the Post Office

Motley Group
Most of the reasons I went in the first place. Good eggs, every one.

Four Days in the Desert - Day 4

Finally, I'm wrapping this thing up. Amazing that I got the trip report out before I found myself back in Vegas (that would be mid-January).

Day 4.  Of course, I don't request a late checkout even though I'm red-eyeing it back. So I have to be out by 11am, and I crashed sometime around 5.  Easy.

Up, shower, pack, and check out right on time.  Absinthetics was kind enough to offer his room up to keep my bags in. His mistake as I undoubtedly woke him up for it.  Lesson taught to another American - don't offer Canadians kindnesses, we'll assume you're sincere and take you up on them :).

Bags stowed, I made my way to the Aria sportsbook bar for some good ol' fashioned... umm... whatever is done at the bar by the sportsbook. See, I ain't much of a football fan, but I do like seeing people.  So I hung out, grabbed some quesadilla and wings and beer, and chatted a bit.

At some point, Jordan announced there was cake coming.  It showed up. It looked like this:


It turns out that Pokerist sponsored a whole bunch of stuff for our charming group of degenerates. An extra grand into the team last longer, a bar and food tab on Sunday, and this lovely cake that was about 5x more cake than was needed to feed our group. It was rather tasty to boot, and apparently made by the premiere Vegas cake-makers. I also hear it weighed about a ton.

Very cool of them.

People cheered and sweat and cried about their sportsball teams winning or losing or beating spreads or somesuch.  Myself and OhCaptain opted to wander a bit with cameras in hand.

Between Aria and Crystals is this sculpture:

Welcome to Crystals

The ol' refocus your eyes for 3D trick.

We made our way to The Bellagio to see their winter display.  We voted unanimously that it was last year's re-organized and therefore not all that impressive. I have pictures of the penguins and igloos and such, but the reality is that I'm not overly thrilled with most of what I grabbed.  Maybe I'll be able to edit them enough to find something interesting, but for now, there's this:

Kept a-Rollin'

Outside the Bellagio, we crossed the driveway to see what we could see. Turns out, you can see Paris.

Paris, But Not

From there, I didn't get too much, but the Cap'n kept snapping.  Hopefully he'll have those pictures posted somewhere at some point. We swung by M&M World, a stop I figured I wouldn't be making this trip, and of course picked up a bag of coconut M&Ms.

Can I mention that the street mascots are all a bit creepy? I can? Good, because they are.

Wandered back through Monte Carlo to Aria, a route that would come in handy later when I was schlepping my bag down the strip. It was determined that the Monte Carlo is about the most boring casino on the strip. Zero character, zero effort.  It was an excitement-sucking vortex of meh.

It was a good walk with another photographer. The last time Cap and I wandered around with our cameras (outside of the Neon Boneyard, but that's different) was Niagara Falls at Eh-Vegas a few years ago. I'm always intrigued by the pictures other people see and their attitudes towards photography.  One of the most fun ways to learn anything is from someone else.

Back at home base, I found myself with time to spare. The Sportsbook bar was dying down, the marathoners were warming up, and the bar was largely empty.  I decided to roll some dice.

Big mistake.

I was impressed Aria was running $10 tables, so I opted for them instead of the $15. Oops. The $15 table was cheering for hours. My table was ICE FUCKING COLD. I blew through my buy-in in around 30 minutes and was down for the trip because of it. Shit. The table was empty and stayed that way for at least an hour afterwards. Nobody was going near the cursed felt.

I, however, couldn't resist the siren call of the Blazing 7's machine. Which promptly handed me around $500 or so, easing my pain.  During this, April let me know that there was an entourage heading to Mandalay Bay to cheer on the marathoners.

Right, the runners. So a bunch of our group was running in a half marathon because they are insane I assume. By this point they'd been pounding the pavement for a while and were expected to hit the finish line in the not-too-distant future. The tale that ran beneath this whole trip was Dan training this group to run this thing, and the tragedies both major and minor that were befalling them in the final days.

Dan almost didn't make it to Vegas because of cancelled flights, but was saved by blogger hearts.

Much bigger was Otis. His father passed away days before, and it was widely expected that he wasn't going to make the trip so soon after the funeral. Nobody could possibly blame him for wanting to spend time with his family, grieving someone who sounds like a great dad. Our thoughts were all with him.

Then the note from him - he was coming after all. His family had convinced him that he couldn't abandon what he'd spent the better part of the year working towards. He needed this run. He needed the accomplishment. And he needed his friends. As word spread among our group, smiles went with it. Partly because we all wanted to see the guy, and largely because we here happy for him and his ability to complete this journey.

They all finished. Otis raising his hands in victory and creating a memory for everyone watching. Or so I hear.  Pauly sums it up well over here.

See, I had grabbed my bags and meandered towards Manadaly Bay (no easy feat with a stuffed check bag in tow). But by the time I got there, the group had already made it out to the street to cheer the runners. Cell service was crap out there, so tweets and texts looking for them went unheeded. I finally figured out where they were after a quick run-in with Garth, and realized there was no way I was getting to them with bag in tow.  The bell desk was a nightmare with all the runners and guests, so I found a spot, and kept an eye out, but saw nobody I knew. I eventually had to turn around find my way to a cab and my flight. I wish I'd been able to stay the extra day so I could have better participated in the festivities.

At least there was Twitter so I could send my congrats and follow along with the action from afar.

I joined the throngs of runners and their friends and family leaving Mandalay via tram. I wandered the bridge to the Tropicana, snapping shots along the way.


I feared the closures and increase in people would result in a taxi issue, so I had budgeted extra time for the airport trip. Turns out I either timed things well or was wrong.  The taxi stand at the Trop had a few people, but nothing tragic.  The first cab that pulled up took a couple people, and the next guy in line begged to come along, as it was an SUV and he was also going to the airport with his wife. The cabbie agreed and then asked if anyone else was going to the airport solo.  I raised my hand and skipped the line.

Immediately the driver was letting us know how pissed he was with the marathon. The shift to a night run (it had previously been in the afternoon) really screwed things up for the cab industry that night. Road closures, HUGE traffic jams, and a lot of pissed off tourists had made for a bad night. We were his first Tropicana pickup (a favourite spot of his) and first airport run of the night. Refreshing surliness aside, he was the best cabbie I'd had this trip.  He backroaded and shortcut to avoid traffic and we were there in no time. As we approached McCarran he pointed at the highway - backed up for miles as traffic hit the Strip, and we were all glad we had a guy who knew what he was doing.

I was the first drop, and he came out to grab my bags for me. I handed him double the total fare and wished him a better night. I figured after all the crappy cabs I'd had so far, this guy deserved my appreciation.  I have no idea what he got from the other two groups in there, but I hope they tipped well.

Airport was a breeze, no crowds, no lines. Leaving me with tons of time to spare.

Sadly, food options were severely limited, and after Jaleo, Raku, and Carnevino, I was forced to order from royalty, his highness, the Burger King. Talk about a long fall. Still, it was food-like, and it filled a hole.

Flight home was spent largely asleep, and all was well. Another trip over. Down cash, up far more in worth was the fun and memories.  I can't wait to do it all again next year.  By then I expect someone will have created a time dilation device so that we can all hang out a bit more.  There's never enough time.

Four Days in the Desert - Day 3

Let's see if I can get this one in a single post.

Saturday - Tournament day! We'll get to that.

So, up at the crack of enough-time-for-breakfast. I fire out a "anyone want more Wicked Spoon?" tweet, only be told Maigrey beat me to the punch because it was so awesome the day before. So I tag along with group, getting there about a plate or two in. Still, it's plenty of time to sample what I missed the day before (still very good) and head to the tournament.

See, that wasn't so painful. I pied-pipered the group back through Crystals to the poker room at Aria, signed up both myself and my last-longer team, caught up with some folks, grabbed BrainMC's nuts, and found my seat.

Oh wait... before it all started, we grabbed the group photo.  I played backup photog in a crappy spot, while OhCaptain perched on high to get what I assume are better pictures.  However, here is the best I grabbed.

Motley Group

Who was I seated with? It's been a while, so apologies to the one person I think I'm forgetting.  There was CJ, Drizz, Alcanthang, Maigrey, Jordan's buddy, a couple women I didn't know, eventually WhoJedi I think, and the mystery person my brain refuses to acknowledge even though I knew them.

Anyway, cards in the air, chatter and bounties and all that.  Hey! Jd, rest of the Royal on the board! Awh, couldn't get the final call on the river, showed the stone cold nuts anyway. Up a bit.  Ooo! Aces.  Won a little. Hammer drop (first at the table).  Al saw into my soul when the 7 hit on the turn and wisely folded, yes a legit hammer win.

Then I bled chips for a while... NOBODY got knocked out until PokerVixen saw the rail after the 2nd round. Then people relaxed, knowing they wouldn't own a copy of Gigli.  I went down sometime after the break when I shoved my KK preflop and Al called with AQ because he wanted my bounty (pic of your choice).  JT7 flop. Yah, no doubt here... K on the turn for my set, his nut straight, and I went home.  Seems only fair that I got KO'd by Al (who ran like a god for most of the tournament I hear), a minor bit of retribution for our HU battle a couple years back.  So yet another blogger gets a copy of the Vegas sunrise shot.  I should get on contacting Al about that.

So I'm out. I'm not particularly upset about it. Disappointed, sure, but it's hard to get mad in a friendly game like this one.I wander a bit, tell Dawn that she's the lone shining light for Team Bedrock (BrainMC being KO'd a few minutes before me), and decide to wander a bit.  Back to the room for a bit, and I fire out a text asking where I'm having dinner and with whom.  CK gets back to me pronto and plans are made.

Showered, changed, and back downstairs I once again swing by the tournament, shoot the shit a bit, and go back out on the floor (because watching live poker, even when it's friends, is boring, and I feel like I'm intruding on their play).  I wander by a bank of slots.

Normally, I ignore the video penny slots that nobody understands the workings of. 15 lines? 5 credits per line? No idea what wins? It's basic insanity. But one caught my eye.  "Do you like games with Gladiators?" DO I?? Airplane! The slot machine!

I plunk my ass down, drop $100 in, and bet the max.  BONUS!  Touch a square! Huh? Er... ok... touch.. nothing... touch... nothing.  Touch the right thing -- BONUS!! Touch passengers! Uh... ok... touch... touch... touch... bonus, bonus, bonus. Super bonus! Double bonus! Spinny give me money bonus! I have no idea what's going on, but I keep winning. On my first spin. Oh hell do I like games with gladiators.

When it finally ends, I have something like 18000 credits. Sweet. $180. Seems like a lot of work for $80 though. Wait... that's waaay more than I started with. Oh! It's a nickel machine! $900! Wheee.

So I play it down a bit. Hit another bonus, play that down and cash out. Put in another hundo, hit more bonuses, and cash out. I walk away with around $1100.  That definitely makes up for lack of tournament winning. Airplane! The Slot Machine is awesome.

Dinner isn't until 9:30, so I find more railbirds and chat it up. Numbono, PokahDave, F-Train, etc.. The final table is rocking 50% women, including my teammate Dawn Summers.  I'm hoping the "member of Astin's team wins the tournament" streak continues, but alas, she crushes all my hopes and dreams by going out 4th. Um, I mean... great job Dawn! Congrats to Chilly's friend for taking the whole thing down (right? It's been awhile. There was a chop at 3 I think.)

Wander wander wander.  Bar, slots, bar, tourney.  Chilly taking prop bets on how many toenails he has painted (answer: 1).  Finally, dinner time arrives, I grab my coat and head out with CK, Grange, and CaityCaity to Carnevino.

Never been before.  Will be back in January.  Carol did the ordering with some minor input from the rest of us and the waiter, and the meal was top-notch.

Bison chop, lamb, sweetbreads (my choice, and the most unexciting part of the meal, but I'm spoiled by the best sweetbreads in the world available in Toronto), pastas, carpaccio, crudo, house-cured pastrami, and more. The food was great, the conversation and company better. But isn't that how these WPBT things are supposed to work? Everything we do, the tournament, the outings, the gambling, the dinners, the drinks -- they're all noise around the core purpose of meeting up with awesome people.

Dinner wrapped up, and I finally made it to the IP. The moment I walked in those broken doors, I realized that I hadn't felt like I was in Vegas until right then. The Aria is very nice. The Excalibur is cheesy. Dinners at fancy restaurants are delicious. But with this group, and these trips, the Imperial Palace is home.

And what does one do in the IP? One sits down at a table and plays PAI GOW!!! I can't remember how much I lost there, but it was worth the price of admission to joke around with BrainMC, Maigrey, and the rotating cast of friends showing off their Pai Gow skills. Hours and a few drinks later I plunked down at The Ghostbusters slots because craps was looking too full.  Turns out that Slimer also wants to give me money because I walked up a couple hundred in a game I couldn't seem to lose.

By this time it was about half past ridiculous o'clock in the morning and I grabbed a cab back (the long away around, I REALLY need to pay better attention to the cabbies who are ripping me off) to Aria with Absinthentics and called it a night.

Next up - the final day, a small photo walk, and runners.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Four Days in the Desert - Day 2b

Full set of Neon Boneyard shots can be found here.  More added as I get around to it.

The concept of Vegas as being 24/7 nonstop action is a bit of a myth.  Mid-day is a pretty open period as people groan off their buffet indulgences, realize that three hours of sleep wasn't really enough, or just find a nice poker table to sit down to for the next 8 hours. Sure, there are still people at the bar, but the real drunkery doesn't get seen until late at night when 21-year old girls in little black dresses keep trying to hold up the buildings as they stumble around vaguely recalling what hotel they're staying in.

During nearly all my Vegas trips, the afternoon is where I slip in things like ziplining, buying M&Ms, or finding a cheap tournament to flip coins in.  This time I opted to head to my room, unload my memory card to my laptop and maybe catch a couple zzz's before a planned mega-dinner. Except that the sun was setting and my room faced west.

So the tripod and camera got set up by the window and all the lights went out to cut reflections. Now my room looked like I was either a spy or voyeur. Who's to say I'm not both though?  Regardless, the goal was to get some sunset shots. This turned into getting night shots as the sun dropped and I wasn't thrilled with what I was getting of the horizon.  Luckily, even the buildings a short walk off The Strip light up as night approaches, and I was able to get some pics I rather liked of the Vdara, the Bellagio tram terminal, and the various loops of road that is Harmon.

Among them was this one.

View From the A

There are plenty more I'll soon get around to posting.

The whole process of shooting out the back of the Aria took a long time. Enough that plans like "taking a nap" were no longer feasible. I set up the photo dump to the laptop and went about getting ready for a dinner whose sheer size was grossly unplanned for.

There was texting and such to arrange rides, and I eventually met F-Train, Drizz, JoeSpeaker, and Doc Chako in front of the hotel. Raku is a tiny place in a strip mall about 10 minutes away from The Strip. Our group of ten necessitated a fixed price menu, but beyond that, details were unclear. Let's see if I can recall the whole group.  Myself, F-Train, Doc, Drizz, Speaker, GarthSaunter, Grubby, Absinthetics, and Katkin.

The easiest way to convey the meal is by cribbing from Speaker's post about it.

We started with a few pitchers of Sapporo. Then the food started to come. If I don't comment, then take the description as "tasty and fairly self-descriptive".

1.- Tofu with Bonito, scallions, wasabi and green tea salt - tofu was served like a giant ball of soft cheese. the green tea salt was on the side, as was a jar of soy sauce.

2.- Bluefin Sashimi Salad with spinach and crispy onions

3.- Red Snapper sashimi and seared- Delicious two-ways snapper. They then asked about deep-frying the leftovers (ie.- the removed skeleton, head, and skin of the snapper). We said yes.

4.- Seafood soup - Kind of. Eel, chicken, (shrimp?), matsutake mushroom, and some kind of nut for people who weren't me, broth in a teapot. Absolutely AMAZING broth.

5.- Shellfish and broth - An understatement. Clams, mussels, whole shrimp, scallops... piled on top of one another. I dislike most of those things and ate them all.

6.- Fried chicken thighs on spinach with balsamic vinaigrette - The first "meh" dish of the night. Generally low on flavour in the chicken, but the bed of spinach underneath was great, having basically marinated in the balsamic.

7.- Asparagus deep-fried with panko bread crumbs

Around here is when I got a text reminding me of my plans to ride the New York New York roller coaster later that night. Hrmm..

8.- Roasted mackerel

9.- Red Snapper bones and skin redux - The snapper from earlier returns as crispy goodness!

10.-  Tofu in beef broth with Salmon roe - I fail to see the point of tofu as anything other than a base for other flavours. Man, what amazing other flavours. Oh, and the tofu is made in-house.

11.- Bacon-wrapped mushrooms, two ways - They're bacon-wrapped mushrooms, two-ways. Of course they were delicious.

I think it was at this point (although it might have been a couple courses earlier) that we were brought hot wet towels and assumed the meal was over. We all agreed that we had certainly received our money's worth and were well-sated. Full, yet not explosively so.  Then this happened:

12.- Kobe beef with wasabi - Oh, there IS more! And it's delicious meat! [nom] REALLY delicious meat!

13.- Pork cheek - Chew the inside of you cheek. Fell how tender it is? Now imagine it tasting like pig.

At this point I assumed our waitress was fattening us up in order to kill us and feed the next party.

14.- Ground chicken on a stick - Again, the chicken was low on flavour. I took a bite and deemed it not worth exploding over.

15.- Salmon rice with salmon roe - Because we weren't moaning in stuffed agony, a giant bowl of carbs is just what the doctor ordered. I had two delicious bites.

16.- Asian pear and strawberry sorbets - This was truly the last dish. And one that was desperately needed. the excellent sorbets cleansed the palate and fit in the tiny spaces left in my stomach.

On top of all this, the ten of us probably went through seven pitchers of Sapporo. Cost per person? $115 all-in. That's the food, beer, taxes, and tip. Best damned deal in Vegas.

So big thanks to F-Train for putting this one together. Fantastic call.

We rode back to Aria to observe mixed games.  Well, I waddled around the tables a bit to check on roller coaster status.  Yup, even stuffed to the gills and barely able to walk, I was going to ride a 203ft, 67 mph coaster. After a bit more (I assume) winning at the tables, Alan and Caity rose to join Dawn, OhCaptain and myself for our trip into oblivion.

By this point, I was actually feeling better. The food had had about an hour to digest, so I wasn't a bloated mass of groaning anymore. We made our way to the coaster, briefly feared it was shut down (due to some drunk walking past saying "it's shut down!"), and paid our $14. I recall it being $25 on my first trip to Vegas, so now it seemed reasonable. I reminded Dawn about the time we rode the Cyclone at Coney Island and she thought she was going to die, and I did nothing to alleviate those fears.

"How much did that cost?"

"$8. I remember because that's how much your life and dignity were worth."


Good times.

Alan pulled out his phone to tweet something, and was promptly attacked by the ride nazi because phones are loose and have to be stored. Pleas about his jacket having a zippered pocket weren't enough. I was tempted to tweet about it on my phone that was in my totally not-zippered jeans pocket. Instead, I pulled out my equally loose wallet to hand him a quarter for the locker. The irony was completely lost on the attendant.

With that, the coaster took off, we had fun, I didn't puke on anyone (and in fact felt just fine TYVM), and we wandered back through the carney games that don't give you money. Where I believe it was Alan (or was it OhCaptain?) and I who lost $5 each to claw games because Dawn dared us to play.

Walk back to Aria, drinks, jokes, chats, more battle stories about the dinner with the other survivors, and finally I wandered up to bed.  Yah... 2 days, 4 posts, 2 more days to go. So far? Amazing WPBT. Next up? The tournament and games about gladiators.

Four Days in the Desert - Day 2a

The alarm in the Aria is a curious beast. From bedside you can program how you want the room to wake you up. I opted for lights on, blackout curtains (but not sheers) to open, and the TV to turn  to CNN (although I found myself turning to FOX news for the pure entertainment value). I also set my phone to make odd noises at the same time to force me to cross the room and shut it off.  After all, I wanted breakfast before heading to the Neon Boneyard.

Everything worked as planned, I fired out a tweet along the lines of "anyone want brunch in an hour?" and promptly crawled back to bed for half an hour. At which point I got the first reply, followed by more. Excellent. 4 of us (Maigrey, BrainMC, Alan, and myself) would be heading to Wicked Spoon at the Cosmopolitan - a buffet I'd been looking forward to since I'd heard about it earlier in the year.

So I rushed around, got presentable and went out the door in search of the buffet. For those who didn't make it out there at some point (and shame on you), Wicked Spoon is on the 2nd floor of the Cosmo, towards the taxi/valet area, past the death rays. Seriously. Death Rays. Cool steampunky Flash Gordon-era death rays mounted on podiums in the hallway.

I found 2/3 of my dining partners in line with Maigrey texting that she was on her way.  I paid for myself and Maigrey and waited for the table to be ready.

Eventually we were all around the eatin' slab and ready to grab some grub.  Wicked Spoon is unique in its presentation of buffet.  Most of the items aren't presented in troughs of goop, but put out in individual servings. A small bowl of salad, a mini-pan of eggs benedict, fruit cups, dessert shots, cup o' sweet and sour pork, etc.. And the carving station is plenty impressive too. Slab bacon, tri-tip, sake marinated turkey in a black pepper glaze, and more.  I never even bothered with the omlette station, but have no doubt it would have also impressed.

I asked for a cappuccino and was told "it costs extra".  Okay, how much? "I'm not sure... around $5?" That's a bit steep, but I wants me my foamy milk on espresso dammit! It was a perfectly serviceable capp that didn't offend. Which is saying lots for a buffet. We never saw a bill though, so I tossed an extra $5 on the tip to cover the cost. Looking back, I probably got hustled for an extra $5 on the tip.

Three or four plates later we were plenty stuffed and Brian and I had a boneyard to visit. Tweets and texts back and forth with PokerVixen and OhCaptain had them wrapping up Vixen's Canadian treachery by becoming a US citizen (totally not part of our continuing plan to invade the states slowly via immigration), and she wanted to get home and change before wandering around a dumping ground for Vegas signage. So, Brian having a car, and standign rigth next to me, I opted to ride with him. OhCaptain would meet us shortly.

But first I needed to swing by my room and grab my camera. Plus, Brian, who was staying at the IP, wanted to see the fancy Aria rooms. He was duly impressed by the geegaws and whosamawutzits in the room and we went in search of the cap'n.

Here was the problem after we found him. Brian's car was at the IP, we were at Aria, and the tour started in 30 minutes.

To the cabs!

A quick ride to the IP and we were doing not terribly on time. Then came the search for the dog tracks.

See, Brian might have been a touch tired when he parked his car the previous night, but he made a point of remembering that there were dog tracks leading him to his parking spot. The problem was, he couldn't remember where the tracks started. So we spent 5 or 10 minutes wandering around the back of the IP looking for dog tracks before finally asking the guys at the oxygen bar/water massage area. Tracks found (they lead to a sqaure of dog bathroom grass because the IP is pet-friendly), we then found the car and were on our way with about 5 minutes to tour start.  That's when we hit highway traffic. Three cops, cars pulled over, multiple arrests.

Luckily, OhCaptain called the boneyard and told them we had no sense of time due to me being on Canadian time or something, and they completely understood his thick Minnesota accent enough to say "whatever, we're starting without you."

We found our way thanks to Google maps and Cap's having been there before.  The tour had indeed started, but was at the "so this is the place we stand to start he tour" phase. Plus the woman in the wheelchair still hadn't made it, so we weren't last. Yes, we were able to beat a wheelchair-bound guest, I'm so proud. Not beat as in battery, but beat as in get there before them.  We clear? No lawsuits? Good.

Welcome to the Boneyard

After the spiel about how they're totally building an indoor museum, we started the tour in the middle with this guy:


Here he is in 3D.  Cross your eyes funny 3D. It's better if you click on him and visit the larger image.

Shooting in 3D

They have lots of piles of letters.


And occasionally even some neon.


Neon is apparently billed per bend in the tube. That thing up there must have cost a fortune. But not as much as this car rental joint's mascot:


The high cost of neon means that a lot of the signage is actually good ol' light bulbs.

Sassy One

We wrapped up at gigantic skull, from the old Barbary Coast, which must have had MASSIVE signage.

Skull in the Desert

For perspective, here's the Googly map of the Boneyard, complete with skull. You may need to turn off 45-degree perspective to really see it.

The Boneyard is a worthwhile way to spend an hour or so of your time. You get plenty of Vegas history stories from the guide and see some cool abandoned signs, if that's your thing. If you have a camera, it's a great place for shots.

From there it was back to The Strip, via Las Vegas Blvd this time, to see the "sights". Man, what a depressing drive that is.  But in many ways, it's a more accurate representation of Vegas, without the veneers and façades that The Strip puts up.

This is, once again, long. So I'll split up day 2 here. Up next - how to combine and epic feast with a roller coaster.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Four Days in the Desert - Day 1b

When we last saw our intrepid Canadian, he was jumping a cab at the Cosmopolitan all by his lonesome to get to the Excalibur. I seem to recall this cabbie actually taking a route that made sense. This opposed to the one who took the highway to the Aria (I wasn't paying attention) earlier in the day.

So I find myself at the Excal and I am, as usual, struck by the cheap cheesiness of the place. But I knew there was a murder (I assume that's the proper group designation) of blogger-types hanging out by the bar, so I just beelined towards Lynyrd Skynyrd's reportedly terrible BBQ joint and swerved at the last second towards the sea of recognizable faces congregated around cheap beers.

I started by giving Bam-Bam a hearty slap on the back, followed by hugs and greetings to the man from Bedrock and his lovely wife Pebbles, who moved from the frosty rolling hills of 45 minutes away from me to the flat golden fields of Saskatchewan (provincial motto: Easy to draw, hard to spell.).  About 5 seconds after this, Bammer tried to convince me to jump in a cab with them and head to The Palms for some HORSE. A game I detest 3/5ths of. Try as he might, he couldn't get me to budge from the Robin Hood-themed drinking establishment I had yet to ensconce myself in.

There was chatting, the some quick chat with newly-minted full-time author John Hartness, an all-too-brief talk with Iggy, hellos to Mattazuma, Yestbay, JoeSpeaker, Lightning, and general all-round chaos as I tried to catch up with 20 people at once.

I of course made some time to talk to Carol (no links because she's secretive that way, but you already know how to find her), who is totally my Vegas foodie insider and all-around awesome person who I don't talk to nearly enough.

Then it was chatting with OhCaptain and PokerVixen about any number of things.  In short, everyone was catching up on their year.  Our 140 character spurts of information and all-too-rare ramblings in these bloggy things just don't measure up to face time with these "Internet friends" (I can't possibly call them imaginary any more).

Somewhere during all this people started to split off and I found myself throwing money away at the Burger Girl machine (slot with a giant burger side-game) while Bam-Bam, Pebbles, and Carol looked on. it was very embarrassing... for the burger girl. Then a tweet came in that OhCaptain was learning craps... so I quickly found myself dropping a few bucks on a craps table with the Cap'n, Maigrey, Gus, Speaker, April, Garth, CJ and Lefty, and eventually Drizz (and maybe others, apologies if I forgot you). Basically, we surrounded the table, and the Excalibur gladly took our money.

However, I did introduce CJ and company to my ideal strategy of ALWAYS playing the come bet and putting full odds on. Regularly stating that "nothing could POSSIBLY go wrong with this." At some point it got dubbed the Canadian strategy. As expected, nothing at all went wrong, except the time I was fully loaded and some asshole sevened out without hitting a single damned point. But that almost never (read: always) happens.

With the craps table holding on tightly to my money, I wandered. I dumped some cash in slots, strolled past table games, and eventually found myself wondering where everybody had gone. Turns out a good chunk were at The Palms, but at this point (some 24 hours since I had woken up to head to Vegas) I really didn't feel like dragging my ass over there to give more money away.  What I DID feel like was a hot dog. Probably from staring at the "beer and dog" banner hanging over the Sherwood Forest bar. I started wandering outside to find food.  I contemplated McD's across the road, but I was on the wrong side of the strip and it wasn't the "nice" one by IP, but the scary one in that odd strip mall between MGM and civilization. Nathan's in New York New York was closing up (and who wants end of night hot dogs?), and I kept walking, dropping money in slots and pulling some out along the way.

I made to the Aria without food and my stomach grumbling most unhappily.  I debated on continuing to the IP in search of food or people, and made it as far as the tram in Crystals before turning around and heading to my room. Thinking, "I'll just grab something snacky off room service." There was no such thing as "snacky" on that menu, and I really didn't want a full dinner.  If only I'd known about Secret Pizza in the Cosmo before I got back home... as it was, I passed out on the ridiculously comfortable bed as sleep beats food cravings most days. Besides, I had to be up in time for breakfast at Wicked Spoon the next morning and a visit to the Neon Boneyard.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Four Days in The Desert - Day 1a

For the first time in the winter gathering, I was travelling solo.  I'd been to WPBT events in the summer by myself, but come December I always had a small entourage of local friends who wanted to gamble it up a bit. This presented a few problems. First we were always co-ordinating flights. Some people couldn't get off work and took later flights, others got delayed a day by vacation scheduling SNAFUs, I would generally be rushing to the airport while others were whiling away the hours waiting for me.

Then we'd get to Vegas and I'd be splitting my time between two groups of friends. The ones I saw regularly, and the ones I saw yearly. My priorities were scrambled.

This year, nobody could come with me. I was a both a little disappointed, and a little relieved. Solo for WPBT is easier. Besides, I'd be returning to Sin City with my usual blokes in January.

In short, I was heading to Vegas by myself to meet up with dozens of friends. I get tired of explaining this to people every year. Maybe I'll tell them I'm going to Scranton. Nobody asks who you're going to Scranton with.

I wisely gave myself some extra time to get to the airport, and the accident on the expressway justified the reduced sleep schedule, for I arrived with still plenty of time to spare.

Not that it mattered too much, as the plane was seemingly delayed about an hour. I'm not sure why, as I was asleep on it as soon as the doors closed, so I didn't notice us sitting on the tarmac the whole time. In fact, I didn't notice we were delayed until I thought, "hrm, we should be there by now."  This put a bit of a kink in my plan to play the Aria 1pm as a Winter Classic warmup.

I strolled through McCarran Terminal 1, a bit concerned about the impending taxi lineup, and tweeted such (yay US roaming plan!). But I won the check-in lottery (2nd bag out) and the taxi stand was a well-oiled operation, so I was checked-in at the Aria by the time I got the "Hey, we just landed and have a rental, want a ride?" tweets.  Bloggers rock.

I was riding the high of being back in Vegas, so decided that yes, I could use some help with my ONE bag, and tipped the bellman as I strolled to the front desk.

The past couple of years I've slipped $20 to the check-in clerk at the Bellagio and am running about 75%. Yes, 2/3 of 2.  The first year was a slam dunk with the penthouse floor room with a lake view (you all know the picture that resulted). The second year was a bit of confusion. Spa tower, strip/lake view, 8th floor. But she didn't touch the $20 and made no suggestion that an upgrade had been given. So I kept the cash.

This year I opted to try a different route. I'd ask for the basic upgrade first (strip view, preferably higher up) and tip if I got it.  No dice.  "I'm sorry, we don't have any strip rooms available, but we do have a very nice room clean and ready for you with a mountain view." Fine... no tip for you.

Ah yes, Aria. Fancy new hotel in the centre of The Strip. I was intrigued by it last year, and April  had swung a pretty solid deal for us degenerates this year.

Sixteen floors up I walked into this:

Aria Room 

Well, I thought, this ain't too shabby. Purple, but nice. I think I made the right call. The rooms were nice, the bed was amazingly comfortable, and the elevators were fast. Being plunked down two doors from the elevator bank made for a particularly easy walk, with surprisingly little hallway annoyance.

Aria Room Detail

That clock there? It controls the whole room. It's the god-clock. Blinds, lights, TV, you name it, the clock controls it. I think I could have ordered room service from it.  The technology in Aria is well-used. Although a couple light switches wouldn't hurt.

I set up my tripod and started shooting the room.  Why? Because I had an assignment on interior design shots due the Monday I got back and had bupkis. Above are a couple of the shots.  Yes, I started my Vegas trip with homework, but that's only because I knew that once I left the room, I wasn't getting any more work done for days. I immediately realized that my setup looked like I was about to shoot amateur porn in a Vegas hotel room. How cliché.

Far too long later, I had my shots taken, adjusted, and sitting on my laptop.  But before I left, I snapped a quick iPhone pic of my view.  Actually, before I left I searched the room for the safe. I took a tweet to @AriaLV to finally locate it. Twitter is damned useful.


Walking outside I realized that the mountain view might be the better option with Aria. Corner suites probably have a good view, but dead-front strip? You get Polo Towers... not much to look at.

I decided to check out the surroundings. I hadn't really explored CityCenter on my last trip because it wasn't entirely finished yet. I also figured it would be good to know where the hell Jaleo was as I was meeting April, Dawn, Maigrey, Peaker (Dan, Dan, the marathon man), Grange, Absinthetics, and the artist formerly known as TheWife (who would be getting in too late, but made it for the bill) there for dinner in an hour or so. I meandered through and around and outside Crystals before finding my way to The Cosmopolitan, noting the much simpler route I could have taken (and later used all the time).  Jaleo wasn't too hard to find, except for them not really putting the name in an easy-to-see location. With time to kill, I wandered The Cosmo a bit more and decided I rather liked the place. There's something unique in its overall design and layout... it feels new with a touch of rat-packy retro-Vegas. The chandeliers, the decor, the death rays on the way to the buffet...

Anyway, I wandered back to the restaurant to await the group. I plunked myself on a chair and played Angry Birds or something, occasionally looking up. I'd met most of the above people before, but had no clue what Absinthetics or Grange looked like, so I figured one of them would show up first. A few lost souls wandered around and left, and I tweeted my curiosity if one of them were who I was looking for. Then someone who stuck out just a bit started wandering, and checking his phone regularly. I knew I had a blogger in sight.  I casually strolled behind him and glanced at his Twitter stream... why, I knew all those people...

"That looks like a familiar list of followers."

"Hi, I'm [Absinthetics]."

"Astin/[real name]"

And so the group started to form. Dawn tweeted that she was on her way and blaming F-Train for her lateness. April and co were coming straight from the airport and a wee bit delayed due to Budget having a no horns, and no honouring your quote policy or something. Oh, and Dan had made it town on time too! Which we were all very happy about because it sucks to have your flights cancelled.  Read about it on his blog.

I presented myself to the ladies at the restaurant to let them know my party was a bunch of slackers who don't believe in watches or "time" so they were late. No worries I was told, and no worries were had. The group showed up about half an hour late and we were promptly seated.

Drink menus on iPads were delivered, wine was had, and much delicious food was ordered. Chevre on endive, iberico ham, serrano ham, veal cheeks and morels, chicken wings, bacon-wrapped deliciousness, amazing lobster paella, lamb ribs, flans, and so much more. Tapas is amazing for a group like us - food gets passed around by design, more of any dish can be ordered on a whim, and good times are had.

But my personal food highlight was a simple thing. On the drink pad, "Jose's Gin & Tonic" is listed as "the best gin and tonic you've ever had!"  So I had to inquire what I was getting for $17. I mean, I make a solid G&T, and there are really only two ingredients.  I was assured by our very competent waiter that it would surpass all expectations or he'd take it back. I suggested I simply drink it and not pay if it wasn't "the best" but only the second best. He declined this generous offer and I ordered the drink anyway.

Damn, they were right.

"This ice ball is quick-frozen over dry ice with pure water for absolute clarity."

"Umm.. okay. It's ice."

"The gin is from Scotland with hints of cucumb.."

"So it's Hendrick's?"

"Uh... yes, it's Hendrick's."

"And finally our tonic, it's Fever Tree tonic from the UK. You can find this at Whole Foods."

"Never heard of it."

It's all in the tonic boys and girls. DAMN. Not as sweet as the usual stuff, this made for one FINE G&T. Not mentioned were the slice of lime, the zest of lemon, the two juniper berries, or the bay leaf floating in my drink as well.

The Best

$17 worth? I dunno. But it's Vegas, so expect higher prices.  Which reminds me I need to go to Whole Foods after work to find that tonic. (please be in Canada, please be in Canada).

Anyhoo, dinner was fantastic, and from there we went to storm the castle.  Well, *I* went to Excalibur, everyone else went to check in or tag along with those who were checking in.

Yah, this is a long one, and it's still day 1, and I haven't reached the Excal yet. Okay, I'll break it up here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

How not to Plan a Trip

"Oh, you're coming for CES?"

It was a refrain that rang out a few times during WPBT when I mentioned I was returning mid-January.  But my answer was "no."

But I can see why there was confusion. I mean, why the hell would ANYONE go to Vegas during the biggest convention week of the year? Geeks and porn stars descending on the city for their annual pilgrimages for awards and toys.

Well, this guy is going because he let a friend plan a trip. A friend who decided a US (but not Canadian) long weekend in January would be an ideal time to go because it would be dead here on the Monday. The whole trip existing solely because he didn't want to keep missing Christmas parties during the usual WPBT jaunt in December.

So now I'm looking at room that normally go for $70/night jacked up to $800. I'm amazed that my tier status went up with M-Life during my latest stay and that it makes no difference. The big "deals" are charging $150/night for Monte Carlo. Hell, even the IP is charging me.

Aria has a decent rate going for a deluxe king, but everyone is of the strict "I don't share with dudes" maxim.  Whatever. Having 5 people makes for an odd room situation anyway.

I can only imagine that restaurant reservations will be just as easy to come by, and that table limits will be kept nice and low.

In short, probably the most expensive possible choice for a weekend. Time to see if there are some strings I can pull.  Shame I can't whine my way to a better deal.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011


Made it home without incident, and plenty of memories to get down in this space.  Those will come over the next few days.  But first, I want to get some of my pics ready for posting.

The quick summary though? Ate like a Roman, gambled like a rube, when I slept it was the sleep of the dead, had nothing but fun times, and most importantly, had great people to spend them with. A++++ will do business with again.