Friday, October 19, 2007

Vegas Day 3 - Carousels, Copperfield, and Crazy Mechanics

After two days on the go, I was looking forward to a long, deep, and drunken sleep.

Instead, I find myself back in the Studio Cafe at 8.30am wolfing down a 'Country Skillet'. Basically scrambled eggs swirled in with various other breakfast goodies, and served atop a mound of hash browns.

Back home it could have passed for a two course lunch. In Vegas it's an average way to start the day.

Made all the stranger by the sight of recently awoken tourists perched in mesmerised silence before a multitude of slot machines - mashing the buttons with one hand, whilst swigging fresh beers with the other.

The over sized breakfast is a calculated risk, as my destination on a beautiful clear, still morning is The Stratosphere. More specifically, the three theme rides perched roughly 900 feet above the Nevada landscape.

Still on my $9 24-hour monorail pass, I'm on a smooth ride back to the north of The Strip. At 10am the attractions are just opening and the queue almost non-existent.

Within minutes I'm whizzing to the top in a super fast lift. Ears popping as the guide delivers her monologue to our pressure dulled ears.

The short journey time is no preparation for the stunning view which awaits us at the top. Looking southwards, the Las Vegas Hilton, Treasure Island, even The Wynn, appear to have all the stature of a Travelodge.

I pause for a few moments to admire the view, before taking on the three rides:

Big Shot: First up is Big Shot. I know what this ride does, but don't know how it will feel.

Now I have the answer. Exhilarated. Firing straight up into the sky with the force of an ejector seat, it feels like we will surely soar beyond the top of the structure and float off into the desert. I consciously avoid looking at the city, and focus on the distant mountains, framed by a flawless blue backdrop.

Beautiful and inspiring.

X-Scream: I'm the first rider of the day, the operator tells me.

'Does that mean it hasn't been tested then?', I ask.

'Bwaaahhhaaa', he laughs heartily, walking away, my question unanswered.

By comparison to Big Shot, X-Scream seems just a little dull. If being hung over a 900 foot drop can be described as dull. It just feels more stolid, reserved. A very well mannered theme ride.

Insanity: Now this is a thrill and a half!! Dangling from the side of The Stratosphere in a carousel that spins and tilts to leave the riders facing an uninterrupted view directly downwards, whilst a pumping rock track blasts out across the observation desk.

'If we go, at least we'll go in style', I shout to the young English guy strapped in beside me.

He looks at me doubtfully. Smiles grimly. Later I chat to his parents.

'You looked like you were having fun.'

'I was!!'

A real buzz. Great excitement, and like X-Scream, the riders are all visible to watchers on the observation desk. Not a time to let the poker face waver!

Fortunately the country skillet remains in my stomach, and I am soon on my way down The Strip for a bit more shopping, and a lazy afternoon.

For some early evening entertainment, I've decided to take in a classic Vegas style show. David Copperfield.

Again, the joys of Vegas. Amble through the hotel, check what's on, pick up a ticket, and be seated an hour later watching a world famous entertainer in action.

For me the entertainment starts before the show even begins. I find myself at a four seat table, inhabited by a woman who is seventy if she's a day, and her two sons, who both seem little older than me.

They are Canadian, friendly as could be, chatty, and sort of amazed to meet someone in Vegas on his own. They're regulars - always mother and sons together - and like to play the slots.

In all their visits they've never before seen a show, and are looking forward to the performance with great anticipation.

I like them a lot, for their polite manner and warm attitude; but their ignorance of the rest of the world is mind blowing. At one point we discuss our respective homelands, and the chattier brother asks me...

'We have polar bears in Manitoba. Have you heard of polar bears?'

'Ummm, I've seen them on the TV.'

'Oh wow. That's great!'

They ignore all the warnings about turning off cell phones or refraining from use of photographic equipment. Whipping out their mobile phones every time Copperfield passes by during his many audience excursions.

At one point chatty brother takes a head shot from around five feet, as the magician passes along the aisle below our table. Copperfield gives him a steely glare, but can't make the phone disappear.

I like the Canadians even more now. Strike one for the gormless tourists. Though I do worry about being huckled out by some hulking security at an opportune moment.

As a natural cynic, I'm not there to worship the legend of David Copperfield.

The arena is relatively small - probably not a bad seat in the house - and I want to figure out his illusions.

I fail. I'm blown away.

He may be 100% cheddar, smarmy - when he picks out the girls from the audience to assist on stage his quality control is high, and he always makes sure he gets a kiss - but as a magician/illusionist, he is bloody good!

The final act of the show entails making around a dozen members of the audience disappear. The method of choosing them simply can't be rigged. They have to be for real.

When the lights go up, they're seated around five yards behind me, and I haven't seen a thing. The only clue is one of his black clad assistants still crouching in the aisle between the disappeared and me.

He gets a sincere and rousing round of applause. I join in with gusto.

After that fun start to the evening its back to the $1/2 tables for more entertainment.

The waiting list grows huge and as one of the first ten names on the list I soon find myself starting a new table, which turns out to be as enjoyable as the previous show.

The real characters are to my left. Not ideal, but at least I don't miss any chat.

Directly next to me is Crazy Mechanic - sleeveless t-shirt, multiple tattoos, backwards baseball cap, a little tuft of beard beneath his bottom lip, and tons of attitude. A real redneck.

He reminds me of the dumb soldier brother in Mars Attacks, but it later transpires he is a mechanic for a motorcycle team. Somewhat incongruously, he is drinking gin and tonic.

I start off disliking him. In a few hours we'll be bumping fists, and mock thieving chips from each other.

To his left is Young Pro - intense, eyes sheathed by a pair of huge gold shades, complaining about having dropped a wad at the Bellagio, and being forced to drop down to the smaller games. He loosens up later.

Next is Married Couple - thirtyish I'd guess. She a classy blonde in a slinky dress, who reminds me of a younger Carol Smillie. He - goatee beard, quiet, well mannered, but not afraid of making a move at a pot.

There's no slowplaying here, so much so that it takes a while for some people to catch on they are together. By the end of the evening Carol is wearing Young Pro's shades, and goatee is reminiscing about how they met at a card game.

The other side of the table is less interesting. Generally filled with middle aged males, with some of the seats being replaced on a regular basis.

I start quite slowly, picking up a few pots and gradually building up my chips as the vodka/Red Bulls work their magic.

Crazy Mechanic is right into the thick of the action. Raising, reraising, and showing a lot of bluffs.

A guy in late position makes it $7 to play into one limper. He is doing this a lot, and enjoying that Crazy Mechanic always complains. The standard raise in the MGM seems to be $10 to $15 dependent on number of limpers.

I look down at QQ and call hoping for Crazy Mechanic to make a play. He folds. Bollocks!

Three to a low flop and I decide to take the lead. Limp/caller folds. $7 Guy smooth calls. I bet big on the turn. He smooth calls.

Now I really don't like this. On the river, the board is ten high and I'm struggling to put him on a hand. I'm hoping for AK or JJ, but he doesn't yet look to have considered folding, though he is hardly exuding strength either.

Still, I reason, I've played this like I flopped a set. He can't put me on queens.

I bet the river unsure whether it's for value, or a blocker. He smooth calls. With Aces. Whoops.

Bang goes a whole chunk of chips. In retrospect, I misplayed that horribly out-of-position. Reraise pre-flop, fold to the re-reraise, and I save a good percentage of my stack.

I top up, and continue. The cocktail waitress is having a good night, the table is friendly, Crazy Mechanic continues to play super-LAG. The atmosphere is great, I'm having a brilliant time, and along comes a real humdinger of a hand.

With three limpers to me in mid-position, I look down at AdQd, and make it $15 to play. Crazy Mechanic and Young Pro both call, one of the limpers calls, and the nice middle aged guy directly to my right announces all-in for around $150 in total!

Shit, that wasn't supposed to happen. I go into the tank. First I try to rationalise the hand. What hand could limp behind two others, then reraise all-in, and why play that way?

The second answer is easier than the first. Crazy Mechanic. It's obvious the guy was aiming to trap him, and now it's me whose fallen into the pit.

What hand could he have? I just can't see him playing AK this way. Nor Aces. Too risky.

It could be a medium pair, but he strikes me as the sort that would try to flop a set with them.

I narrow it down to a probable KK or QQ, and a possible JJ. Anything lesser being unlikely.

Then I count the pot. It's over $200 and it's about $135 to call. I know I'm behind, I know I don't really have odds to call. The whole table is watching me intently. They can see I am agonising.

I turn to the raiser and gesture to Crazy Mechanic:

'You were expecting him to raise. I know you've got me, but hey, it's Vegas. Let's gamble. I call.'

He immediately tables Kings. No flourish. Just a matter of fact motion. I nod and show my hand.

The table leans forward as the dealer peels off a flop - and spreads THREE diamonds on the board. I flopped the nuts.

'Whoa!' yell ten voices in unison. Some more excited than others. The turn pairs the board.

'You're not dead yet.' I tell him.

He looks at me dubiously.

The river is a blank, and I scoop a monster pot. As I toss a red chip to the dealer, I turn to the nice guy.

'That was a terrible call. I feel quite embarrassed.' I grimace.

'I'd have called too.' he tells me, and we shake hands.

An Asian guy fills the seat between Young Pro and Carol Smillie. He's what we call in Glasgow a nippy sweetie. Sour faced, all attitude, and no charm. He makes it clear he's killing time while waiting for a seat in a bigger game.

Within a few hands, Crazy Mechanic calls him out. They exchange words, there's a bit of financial dick swinging, and suddenly it's all sweetness and light again. Crazy Mechanic bumps fists with him, and it's smiles all round.

Finally we run out of replacements for the right hand side of the table, after Carol recovers from a $300 deficit and cleans out another player by flopping a set vs a straight, and hitting the full house.

The table breaks. We've been there the whole time. I started out thinking Crazy Mechanic was a redneck idiot, by the end of the night we're all best buddies. Even nippy sweetie Asian guy.

Young Pro reclaims his shades from Carol, and we go our separate ways.

I count my chips. I'm $13 down for the night, including drinks and tips. It doesn't matter.

Munching on a greatly delayed 'dinner' of hot dog and Sprite, I reflect on a fantastic night. If this is what Vegas it all about, I'm all about Vegas.

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