Sometimes Vegas Won't Let You Leave

Hell, I don't even know if I'm technically allowed in Nevada anymore, but it's hard to say no to a good time.

Anyone who's followed my travels knows at least a piece of my history in Las Vegas. It began with winning hundreds and even thousands at the crap tables, which in turn lead to years worth of comps in the form of free rooms, buffets, money and even tickets to Cirque shows.

Over the years Vegas has been the stage for psychedelic celebrations and blisteringly drunken nights. Unavoidable were new friends, punches thrown, hotel security, money won, money lost, court rooms, hotel rooms, scammers, days without sleep, days without waking, saxophone playing hypnotists and too much chaos to recount.

Now, after a long reprieve, I was heading into the desert's palpitating heart one again. This time I was bringing Marilyn, my lady of the past couple years and travel partner for the better part of the past year. She'd never been to Vegas, but this was about to be one hell of an introduction.

We'd just come off Thanksgiving at my brother's near San Diego, followed by a bit of random rambling in Southern California letting our thumbs lead the way for us. Somewhere in the mix we decided on Las Vegas. Marilyn had never been and was somewhat conflicted. For one she wasn't sure if it would be her scene, not being a gambler for one. Secondly, she knew I had a tendency to get ripe with bliss and localized wanderlust given enough stimulation, which Vegas has no shortage of. Despite the trepidation we locked ourselves on the target, Vegas bound.

The last leg of our hitchhiking to Vegas started in Lake Havasu City, we'd just spent the night with a guy we'd met at a brewery there. After a drink filled night and a hazy morning of waking up we then found ourselves getting dropped off at the edge of town, just 150 miles south of the lights.

Our first ride came from an adventurous looking girl with pulled back blonde hair sharing hitchhiking stories of her own; she drove us all the way up to Interstate 40 and the next junction.

Our next and only other needed ride of the day came from a guy in a pickup truck who spoke very little English, but it was established we was indeed heading directly into Las Vegas. He took a phone call at one point and was speaking, he briefly looked back at us, "I'm Chinese", he told us.

Marilyn and I shared a quiet laugh with a "no shit!" look on our faces. By the time he dropped us off at Fremont Street, exactly where we were aiming for, we were pouring out of the truck all smiles and laughter. For the last bit of the trip he'd been belting out power ballads to himself along with the radio, Celine Dion being his closer.

We marched directly into Hennessy's, the bar where my friend Shana worked, she immediately came running up to me from across the bar.

"Ken Flannery!", she shouted with a southern and Irish charm, leaping into a hug to usher in what was to be another great visit in town.

We started with some beers and some of my cash in the video poker machine, my recent default in Vegas. My days of craps had mostly faded, so had much of my explicit gambling. I dabbled still from time to time, but video poker at the bar was chill, low stakes and still resulted in free drinks (Vegas generally gives free drinks to anyone gambling, even if just for pennies).

Shana had gotten a room at a casino nearby, anticipating a big night and preemptively doing away with the notion of having to get ourselves back to her house in the suburbs at some wild hour. This was a smart move, as the first thing on the agenda was a ten dollar "fundraiser" at her bar which included all-you-can-drink wine and Jameson. Yup, it was gonna be on.

Jameson and Shana go together like Shana and Jameson. Up in the hotel room there was a bottle of course; after some shots up there with her boyfriend and a new friend, an energetic Michigan girl who'd just moved to town, we headed back down to the bar to begin blending into the roar of the night.

Unlimited wine and whiskey, yes, things began getting lively quickly. I darted around the room chatting here, flirting there, filling up my cup and paddling around the scene. At some point a raffle was being read off; we realized that upon entering we'd entered this raffle so we now tuned into the numbers being read off.

Suddenly Marilyn started hollering, holding up her ticket, the proud winner of two indoor skydiving tickets.

We soon spilled out onto the streets and to some other bars. Before I knew it I'd lost track of Marilyn and all other familiar faces, one of the easiest things to do in a group in Vegas. By the time I tracked her down she already had a story of being in a threesome; she clearly wasted no time in embracing the spirit of Vegas.

The night went on until liquor washed memories began fading in as we woke up in the hotel room the following morning. Hair of the dog is the only hangover cure in Vegas, so down went some Jameson and off we went back into the street. After doing a circuit of a few of the good bars, including some samplers at the brewery now there, we at last headed to the suburbs. We kept on sipping, smoking, checking out Shana's restaurant she worked at and otherwise hanging out, then finally falling hard to sleep.

The hangover caught up with us by the next morning. Shana headed out to work after cooking a big amazing breakfast that my hangover disallowed me from eating much of, we soon fell back over for a midday nap.

I usually say the Vegas is a two-night kinda town. The first night is often a rampage, the second night is a crap shoot trying to chase the energy from the first night, then you wake up rundown and ready to move on before you get chewed up entirely. And that was more or less the plan for this trip, two or three nights and then we'd venture out to Utah, Arizona or whatever destination seemed to be pulling us in. "Plan" for me has never been a plan, though, just a thought, a guideline. Like so many times before, though, this "plan" was about to be thrown out.

Once we regained consciousness, more or less, we headed downtown to pop into Hennessy's and hang out with Shana who'd be working. I popped some bills in the poker machine at the bar to earn my free pints of Guinness, chatting away with Marilyn, the bartenders, the locals and the in-and-out visitors.

Then a guy sat down right next to me smiling, "Hey Kenny!", he said like a good friend. I responded in kind, although he was just vaguely familiar and I couldn't rack my brain for how I knew him.

From the wine and whiskey night, that's where. I'd chatted with him a bit and Marilyn had chatted him more so, talking about our travels and so forth. He himself was a traveler, living with a rhythm similar to mine, just on a slightly different scale. While I hitchhiked just about everywhere, he flew. While I mostly couchsurfed and camped, he stayed in hotel rooms. Still, like myself he would spend a day or two, maybe a week somewhere, then was quickly moving on, often not deciding where-to until at the airport.

Joe Marshall was his name, Vegas was one of his regular spots. He played a good deal of blackjack and maintained a "Diamond" status in Vegas, getting comps as I once did, just on a whole other level.

He had a friend with him who also did a fair bit of traveling, the two of them and Marilyn and I were getting on pretty great. It wasn't every day that I met someone who tripped around the way I did. Our methods were different, but our beat was of the same spirit.

"Come out for the games tomorrow and we'll host you at Caesars", he offered when he found I was going to be watching all the Sunday games. And so began the extension of our visit.

The next morning I left Shana's place early to make it to the sports book for kickoff, leaving Marilyn behind to sleep in; she had little interest in football. Eventually she joined me and hung out watching the games, waiting on a response from Joe, but the games ended without any word back.

We wandered down the strip contemplating getting a room for ourselves for the night, towards the Riviera which looked to be the cheapest. Along the way we got talked into signing up to a timeshare presentation. Usually this is an easy thing to pass by, but I had memories of working the timeshare system down in Cabo in exchange for some pretty cool "prizes", like free sunset cruises and snorkeling trips.

We walked into the Riviera still debating whether it was worth the money to get a room, wondering if Joe would still come through with his offer to host us at Caesars or whether there was some other option we hadn't thought of that would bubble up. We'd just about caved in to the room idea when I got the message form Joe.

After marching back down the strip we'd arrived back at Caesars where an energetic, vodka-fueled Joe was eager to link back up with us, along with his traveling friend Gregg. We checked our bags at the desk and Joe got on top of the plan. We was going to sneak me into the spa with Gregg, as only I would have a shot at that (men's and women's spas were separate), then sneak Marilyn into the Diamond Lounge.

It worked on both accounts, soon I was relaxing in the extravagant hot tub area in Caesars spa watching the game with Gregg. He told me how there was even a room tucked away somewhere up there that snowed on you. Supposedly you were supposed to hop from the snow room to the steam room for the ultimate experience.

After some time up there Joe's next move was to sneak me into the Diamond Lounge, which we accomplished easily with the walk-by-the-line-with-confidence move. We joined a perma-smiling Marilyn at the bar who had several cocktails in front of her. The Diamond Lounge was for high rollers only, and once you were in there money didn't matter. Drinks were free, as was the buffet, all of which we took full advantage of much to Joe's delight as much as our own. He was as generous as he was free-spirited, happy to see us happy.

Gregg joined us shortly thereafter, eventually we all wound up back in the room. Joe laid down, he was an early-to-bed, early-to-rise kinda guy, as the early morning is when he preferred to get his blackjack table time in. He was essentially only half-asleep, though, chiming into the conversation the rest of us were having in and enabling a room service call at one point for munchies and such.

Marilyn and I woke up alone in the morning, but soon enough Joe was up to say goodbye, his plan was to fly out to the next adventure shortly. His "plan". Marilyn and I took advantage of having the room to ourselves for another couple hours and finally headed back down to the strip. Ahead of us was still a timeshare presentation and a couple indoor skydiving vouchers to take care of.

The timeshare presentation was a true scam. We sat through the 90 minute presentation and then collected our "rewards". Unlike my experience in Cabo, where the presentation included an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet and a then a stream of free cocktails during the pitch, likely to loosen us up, this presentation included nothing but a sales pitch.

That would have been fine, but the "free dinner", "free shows" and "gambling credit" all had catches that rendered them useless. Instead they were jenky 25% off coupons, lame shows with drink minimums and the "gambling credit" was a couple spins on a novelty slot machine.

The feeling of getting burned was short lived, however, as an hour later we were suited up in a chamber "skydiving", floating around and tossing ourselves at the padded walls. Our spirits were flying, now back on the street contemplating our next move.

Our plan was to treat ourselves to big buffet and then head back towards Fremont to get a cheap room for the night before hitting the road, finally. "Plan", yes, gone again was this one. Instead, we got word from Joe, "We're at Planet Hollywood, come over!".

Joe managed to sneak us into the Diamond Lounge over there with ease, once again we chowed down on the free buffet and took full advantage of the stream of drinks. After a bit Gregg escorted Marilyn away heading towards some of the big casinos like the Bellagio and Aria so she could see the extravagance of them. In theory I was blacklisted from these casinos... that's another story, but at least he could take her there.

I stayed back watching the game and sipping cocktails. Joe was in and out himself taking phone calls, but I hung out with a gambler I'd met the night before who happened to be there. Along with him I chatted with his other poker and sports betting buddies, every point was critical, thousands of dollars were on the line.

Eventually Marilyn and Gregg were back, at that point Joe had secured a room for the night in Planet Hollywood. He dipped in to get some napping while Marilyn and I ran around town for a bit, hitting up places for bouts of drinks and video poker, then finally back to the room to wake up Joe.

It had surfaced earlier that Marilyn had never been to a strip club, Joe was not going to let that stand. A car picked us up and soon we were at some high end strip club for the duration of the night, only leaving once Marilyn had gotten her share of lap dances and kicks, a proper strip club experience.

It was daylight by the time we left. Joe was wanting to hit the tables as this was when his favorite dealer's shift started. Marilyn was ready for sleep, but I was keen to keep the buzz going, so I opted to keep rolling with Joe.

Instead of blackjack we landed at the roulette table there in Caesars. I joined in the gambling, but stuck to the minimum and simple bets, mostly just to let the free drinks roll in and enjoy the table time. The night/now-morning raged on until I drank myself into a blackout, just hazy memories of drinks and chips and spinning wheels.

When I woke up I was alone in the hotel room and it was already dark. I tried to regain consciousness, but didn't make it out of the bed. Before I'd been "awake" for too long the door beeped and opened, Marilyn threw $400 cash on my chest, Joe coming in just behind her.

Joe then shed light on my missing memories. While at the roulette table, which he didn't typically play with the usual preferred option of blackjack, he was making his bets based on mine, just much larger. He'd won huge, as I apparently did as well, albeit at a smaller scale. We'd taken a cab from Caesars back to Planet Hollywood, while in the cab I dumped all my chips on his lap saying something like, "What am I gonna do with chips, these are all you, man!". Those chips added up to $400, he laughed it all off, later cashed in the chips for me and that cash on my chest was now explained. A pretty nice blackout explanation.

Joe was now on the sleeping shift, I rolled out with Marilyn again and we did some more running around, including using credits Joe had given us to go up on the "High Roller" Ferris wheel.

We woke up in the morning as Joe was getting back from his blackjack shift, finally ready to fly on to the next place, us ready to hitch on. Our destination was still a spinning slot wheel with options of Utah, Arizona or California. Joe's wheel had Hawaii, New York and Florida.

We rode with him at Hennessy's for a final drink. "Final"... yeah. Again, not so much. Joe stuck around showing me his blackjack strategy on the bar's video screen, giving me an alternative to my usual choice of poker. After several drinks he finally managed to scrape himself off of Vegas and get himself to the airport.

Marilyn and I remained, getting motivated ourselves. Shana, though, upon hearing we were still in town and "about to leave" simply wasn't going to let that happen. "Stay one more day!", she messaged me. It's hard to say no to a good time.

December 4, 2014 to December 10, 2014