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As some of you that read this blog know, my “real” job is as a midday jock (Disc Jockey) for 98.9 The Bear in the tropical paradise of Ft. Wayne, Indiana. So a quick bit of backstory for the tale you’re about to hear: the radio station had an on-air contest, the grand prize for which was a trip to Las Vegas with yours truly. The winner would be taking a guest, and so would I. Since my lovely Sweet Baby could not take the necessary time off, I chose my friend and beer-league goalie Nick Farkas. Farkas is a seasoned traveler, making trips all over North America in his role as a union representative and adventurer. The trip was to take place between Saturday, February 1st and Monday, February 3rd. A quick trip. Essentially two night in Vegas. Sounded wonderful.
12:20pm – I text our winner, Eric, to tell him we’re on the way to the Ft. Wayne International Airport. He responds that he’s actually flying out of Detroit, since it’s closer for him. I wish him well and tell him we’ll hook up out in Las Vegas. For some reason, he and his buddy are staying at a different hotel: the Hard Rock Casino. Farkas and I are at the Embassy Suites. Hmmm. Okay, that’s cool. I didn’t anticipate spending much time in the room anyway.
1:06pm – I receive a call from an unknown 800 number. The caller leaves a voicemail. I check it. Uh-oh…bad news: our flight has been pushed back. We arrive at the airport, my lovely wife drops us off. Nick and I go in. Looks like there’s been a problem with the plane getting here from Atlanta. Fucking Atlanta. (This is a bad bit of foreshadowing.) I inquire as to any other flights to Detroit (for our connection to Vegas) as I’m concerned that we’re really going to be pushing it, time-wise. Our Detroit-to-Vegas flight leaves at 3:30. We originally were scheduled to leave Ft. Wayne at 1:45. As the clock creeps towards 2:30, I know it’s going to be close. I am told that there are seats on a flight to Atlanta that evening, then to Vegas. However, another airline employee says that no, that isn’t the case. I tell the airline guys that we’ll soldier on, and worst-case, we catch a later flight out of Detroit. I call and leave voicemails to my bosses advising them what’s up and promise to keep them posted.
2:20pm – Halfway through security, a TSA guy comes running over saying “WHOA! WHOA!! I can’t let you fly!” He explains that the boarding pass that I’ve shown him…and that he has signed off on…is for Sunday the 2nd. I think that’s got to be mad. He read it wrong, maybe. I look at my boarding pass to see that he’s absolutely right. Somehow the airline has misunderstood or something, and has us flying out of Ft. Wayne the following day. Fuck. Farkas and I grab our crap, get out of line, and stumble sock-footed back to the ticketing desk. One dude says “uhh…I thought you were leaving tomorrow.” I explain that I’d JUST TOLD HIM that we were trying our luck in Detroit. His supervisor straightens it out, prints new passes with our original flight times, and away we go. Again. Through security.
2:35pm – We sit on the goddam tarmac for an eternity. Finally, we’re airborne. One last check of the flights out of Detroit shows that the departure has been pushed back to 3:40. That’s good news, as minutes count.
3:20pm – The plane lands in Detroit. Looking good. Then we taxi. 3:30pm. I look up exactly how far our departure gate is. Holy shit. Imagine a capital “H” on its side. Got it? Our plane would be pulling into the lower-most, furthest-to-the-left gate. Our plane to Vegas was in the upper-most farthest-right end of the “H.” Fuck and fuck. Okay. We’d run.
3:30pm – Farkas and I (along with a couple of guys in Chive gear who are are also heading to Vegas) perform a “Flying-V” to get out of the gate. Luckily, we’re all carrying our only luggage. We run. And run. There’s a weird sensation that occurs as you sprint down one of those moving sidewalks and then reach the end: it’s deceleration trauma, as your legs think the ground beneath you is still moving. Of course, it isn’t. My knees are already shot, so this jarring experience each time is annoying and painful. It happens again and again and is unnerving each time. I look back and see Nick is falling behind. He stumbles, puts his hands on his knees. He’s spent. He’s done, and we’re halfway through the tunnel to the other side of the “H.”
I ask if he wants me to run ahead. He nods assent, then bravely tries to pick up the pace again. I leave him, running as fast as my leopard-skin creepers will carry me. Up the escalator, taking a hard right, moving sidewalk, floor, moving sidewalk, the gate is ahead, none of my travel companions is nearby. Not sure what happened to the Chive guys. Don’t care. See the gate. Rush to the desk. Look at the video monitor…
It’s gone. The door is shut.
A Chive guy runs up behind me, tells me that I must’ve been “flying” through the terminal., adding that “I took the tram, and you beat me by thirty seconds.” He mentions that he’d seen our plane pulling way from the gate literally as I arrived. Wouldn’t have mattered. Farkas was still back there somewhere. Then I see him, and he knows from my face that we’ve failed.
3:45pm – The gate agent is a delightful, helpful lady. She informs me that there might be a couple of seats on the 7:55 to Los Angeles; the flight continues to Las Vegas. I tell Nick that I’m running down to the help desk immediately, in case the seats disappear. He elects, wisely, to stay there at the gate and rest.
3:50pm – Another long sprint, only to find a sea of humanity at the Delta help center. I see the Chive guys talking to an agent. I finally get one of my own, and she steers me to the bank of old-school black wall telephones. I pick up a handset, talk for a while with the female voice on the other end. No flights. None at all, not even on their “partner” airlines. She mentions that there’s a 6am flight to Atlanta, then to Las Vegas. We’d be getting in around noon, Vegas time.
Fucking Atlanta. Fuck. I ask about where I’m supposed to stay, am given a number to call for a “discounted” hotel.
4:10pm – I grab a couple bags of complimentary Cape Cod Kettle Cooked Chips and two little Aquafinas. I consider taking the whole damned basket. As I walk back to Nick, my phone rings. Jeff Davis. Jeff is an independent promoter. He works with record labels and brokers deals with radio stations to “promote” artists/bands. Often, he gets the record labels to pay for things like hotel stays as a way of saying “thanks for the support!” Indies are the only thing standing between a radio station and payola charges. They’re the middle-men, the brokers. They keep things above-board and within FCC and FTC regulations. Anyway, Jeff asks how things are going. We chat. There’s really nothing he can do, and I know it. He wishes me luck.
4:45pm – We wait outside in the brisk Detroit air for our shuttle to the Days Inn near the airport. And wait. And wait.
5:30pm – The Days Inn. With the airline “discount” it’s sixty bucks. The station petty cash will have to pay for it, cutting into our “fun money.” Whatever. We check in, throw our bags in the room, head downstairs to the bar for something to eat. Trish the Dish (nobody calls her that) is our waitress. She seems amiable in that hard Michigan way. Starving, Nick and I order a basket of shrimp and some burgers. We guzzle a couple of Labatt Blues while we wait. Then we wait some more. Nick playfully hints that we’re sort of hungry. Trish points to the order window and says “See how many orders he’s got on his wheel?”
Okay then. Wonderful. I love Detroit. Finally, a couple of beers further along, we see a plate of shrimp in the window. Our hopes are dashed when a different waitress grabs it and hands it to a guy who JUST SAT DOWN at the bar. Vegas feels so very far away. Finally, we eat. Nick showers. I text Eric and tell him that we’ll be in tomorrow, good luck, holla if he needs anything. I hit the sack, knowing that we’re going to be up at 4am. It’s about 8:30pm in Detroit, Michigan
1:49am – My phone is plugged-in and on vibrate. It wakes me up with the familiar bzzt-bzzt and I check the message. A text from my boss. Must’ve been lost in the Sprint network ether, as the message refers to the indie and such. The bossman hopes “all the BS works out” for us. I go back to bed. Farkas is snoring loudly.
4:00am – My alarm was set about three minutes before the hotel’s wake-up call. We’re up. We throw our shit together, pulling on the same clothes from yesterday. Downstairs. Shuttle to the airport. A guy from Uganda (I think that was where he was from) jokes that “Oh no! I left my leg at the hotel!” Nick and I can’t decide if he’s joking. The shuttle driver asks where everyone is heading. Someone says “Aruba” so the driver plays that goddam Beach Boys song with John Stamos playing drums. Farkas makes some crack about John Stamos, then something about “Eye of the Tiger” when BAM! That’s the next song the dude plays, completely by chance. We feel positive for the first time since arriving at FTW airport.
5:00am – Checked-in, we grab breakfast. I opt for Burger King, Nick chooses Starbucks. We are definitely still in Detroit.
6:00am – Our plane lifts off (after de-icing) towards ATL. We’re supposed to arrive at 8:30, then fly out at 9:40am. That’s the plan, anyway.
9:00am – The sign at the gate reads “FLIGHT DL1181 to LAS VEGAS: 10:00am” Yes, that’s correct. A delay. In Atlanta. It’s 48 degrees there. Nobody knows what’s up, the airline people shrugging, nodding, and looking busy.
9:30am – The flight has been pushed back again. Scheduled for a 10:25am departure. Finally, an explanation: the gate agent (Nick remarks that he looks like a wizard. Maybe a Jedi. He’s right. Dude is dapper as hell, and has a slight Ivory Coast accent.) He apologizes, saying that the “mechanical problems” are holding us up. Uh-oh.
9:45am – Flight time changed to 10:30am. Suddenly, there are no Delta airline people around. They’re making themselves scarce. Not a great sign. Finally, the Gate Jedi comes back, apologizes, but tells us that the good news is that “we finally found a plane! They’re cleaning it up right now so we can get boarded!” The passengers waiting and grumbling all ask each other “WE FOUND A PLANE?!?! WHA–?” What a way to run an airline.
10:40am – We begin boarding. The silver lining is that at some point Delta realized how angry we must’ve been, and our tickets for the last leg (we hoped and prayed it was the last leg) of the journey is First Class. We’re in the Red Zone Super Sky Captain Club or whatever they call it. That’s cool. But we’d rather be in Vegas.
11:00am – We’re off the ground. Next stop: Vegas. At last! Our first-class seats are wide and wonderful. We get hot towels. I order a gin & tonic, Farkas orders the same. Our flight attendant seems to think it’s a bit early for booze. She is 100% incorrect, as we put down another after that. I have no idea if they’re gonna charge us for them…I just want them in my belly.
They take our breakfast order. Having had breakfast at five in the morning, I’m really looking forward to lunch. But the options are cereal or omelet. Omelet it is, then! Nick looks back and sees the people in Coach. Makes eye contact. Fakes snobbery, telling me “have them close that curtain! I won’t have riff-raff looking at me whilst I dine!” It really is ridiculous, the difference between coach and 1st class. Nick says he’ll pay to upgrade from now on. I have a margarita (not frozen) with my breakfast. Because.
The lady behind us and Nick both recognize the Super Bowl Champion ring on the finger of the guy in the row ahead of us. The finger belongs to Richard Dent, MVP of Super Bowl XX. Wow. Nick’s a Bear’s fan, so this is huge. But even more cool is that right across the aisle from Mr. Dent sits Coach Dan Reeves. First class, man. That’s where it’s at. (We never paid a dime for our drinks, either.)
1:00pm – Las Vegas, Nevada. Thank Fucking GOD. Our spirits are already lifted, as it’s sunny, we see palm trees, and just there across the tarmac, close enough to make out the marquees, sits the strip. I see the now completely-chintzy-looking black pyramid of the Luxor. There’s the Mandalay Bay, home of the House of Blues. I can see the roller-coaster at New York, New York. Ahhhh…Vegas. Good to see you again. We land, I call the hotel and ask about shuttles. The receptionist laughs at me cruelly. “No shuttles. You’ll have to hail a cab.” Ah, yes. The airport cab tax. The city tacks on about a buck-fifty to every cab ride from the airport. Fine with me. The cab stand is quick, efficient, and the cabs are all amazing. Ours is a white Durango with an ad for Celine Dion on the roof. Our driver opens the doors for us, and away we go. The driver swears like a sailor and has a Baltic-sounding accent. I ask if he’s from Ukraine. “Serbia!” he answers. “Fucking Ukraine, man…those fucking guys…it’s just crazy, man. You see all that’s happening? It’s fucking the end of the world for those fucking guys. And Ukraine police? Brother, those fucking guys…they throw you in jail, they never see your ass again.” He’s awesome, riffing on the death of “That fucking guy…Phillip Seymour Hoffman? You see that shit, man?” and the Super Bowl, which is to be played later that afternoon.
1:30pm – Our hotel, the Embassy Suites near the Convention Center, is amazing. We have a suite (duh!) with two flat-screens, a mini-fridge, awesome bathroom and glassed-in shower.
Too bad we’re not gonna spend any time here, we think. I take a quick shower. We change. Nick Farkas and I then hit the strip.
3:00pm – We wander. Nick tries to find a place to change his watch battery. We quickly discover that while there are many high-end places to buy a nice watch, there’s no place in Vegas to actually have a battery changed. Especially, it seems, on a Sunday. No matter. We duck into a casino. The Wynn, I think, but don’t really even care to notice the sign. Nick asks if I’d like a cigar. “My treat!” he says. Sounds awesome, and I accept. The ones we choose are $24 a pop. With tip, he shells out over fifty dollars for two smokes. Wow. But the cool thing is that you can smoke inside just about everywhere in Las Vegas, so we do. I consider placing a bet at the sports book desk. I want to bet $20 that a safety will open the scoring at the Super Bowl. The line wraps around the casino, however, so I say “screw it.” (I later regret this decision terribly.) We find decent-looking slot machines, sit down, order scotch, neat. Nick immediately pays for the cigars by winning $129.14. I don’t do as well, but escape with twenty-nine cents. Doesn’t matter, as we’re in Vegas, drinking scotch and smoking fine cigars. This is why we’re here.
3:40pm – I check in with our winner, Eric, via text. He’s fine. Watching the Super Bowl with his guest and a friend who drove up from San Diego. I tell him to call/text if he needs anything, and I tell him to have fun. The dude has never flown before, and sure as hell hasn’t been to Vegas. I can’t wait to get his opinions/impressions of the place. That’ll have to wait, however. Too much to do, too little time.
4:00pm – We decide to walk the streets of Las Vegas, drinking, because you can totally do that there. In fact, we pass numerous people with literal jugs of booze, just walking, talking, sipping, laughing. Ye Gods, it’s awesome. We’ve kept the glasses from the casino, and buy a bottle of Glenlivet. We drink it. A couple of different people remark that they like my “jacket.” It’s actually just a western shirt, emblazoned with an embroidered cowboy skeleton drinking beers on the back. I thank them all for their kind words.
5:00pm – Nick and I decide that we need to eat. Booze since eleven, walking around, that omelet a distant memory. We hit the Bellagio. “The Buffet” it’s called. A whopping forty-something a plate. The cashier instructs the hostess to let us scope it out first, to make sure we wanna drop that kind of jack for what could very well be an over-sized Golden Corral. The place is far from it. We do a quick spin and agree “Yeah. This.” Crab legs. Sushi. Rib tips. Tandoori Chicken. Fried rice. Mac & cheese. Mussels. Literally everything you could ask for. I don’t normally like buffets, but this right here? Wow. We opt for regular water, giving our livers a break, even though we could upgrade for an additional eleven dollars and drink unlimited beer. Seriously, that was an option.
6:30pm – We decide to walk off the incredible amount of food we’ve just consumed. Check the Super Bowl score. Wow. Not looking good for Peyton and company. I hear about the safety that began the game and kick myself for not placing that bet. A couple of college chicks mention that they love my jacket. I smile and nod thanks.
7:00pm – The Flamingo. I briefly consider shooting craps, but we’re both restless and want to keep moving. I think we’re both subconsciously aware that we don’t have much time in this town. More slots. A beer. Nick wins some more money. I lose twenty bucks. That’s Vegas, baby. You gon’ loooooooooo money.
8:00pm – We check out some shops in this mall-like section of one of the casino/hotels. The halls and streets are filled, suddenly, with Seahawks fans. Some are hot chicks in those girly-cut jerseys, the new neon green ones. Some are old-school, long-suffering fans wearing threadbare old-school blue shirts. I look for souvenirs for my kids, but find nothing that looks good enough to blow thirty bucks on. Instead, we grab a bottle of Sailor Jerry. A punk-rocker with liberty spikes, plaid pants, and leather “Casualties” vest tells me he likes my jacket. I say “Thanks, bub.”
9:00pm – We’re starting to flag a bit. Nick mentions that it’s midnight back home and in our bodies. We’ve been up since 4am and travelling, walking, and drinking. I suggest we walk a bit more then cab it back to the hotel to finish our bottle and maybe check out the outdoor hot-tub. He agrees.
10:00pm – Back to da hotel. A young lady stops us from taking our glass tumblers of booze out to the hot tub, instead having us pour our hooch into plastic cups. There’s a guy out there with his wife and daughter, both lovely. Farkas asks me privately about the daughter, “what is she, sixteen?” We agree not to look at her.
Midnight – Time to pass out. Our flight the next morning is supposed to leave at 11am. We set alarms so as not to miss the breakfast downstairs.
7:00am – We’re up. The sun is, too, and streams through the window. It’s glorious. It’s hard to hit “snooze” when the sun is over the mountains and right in your face.
Downstairs, they’re cooking up made-to-order omelets. This one is much better than our first-class omelet, but this time I skip the gin. Off to the airport. I run into Eric from Ohio, our winner. He’s had a blast. “We gotta come back here!” he grins. That’s ultimately what this was all about, of course. I’m glad he and his guest had fun. All four of us board. This is another four-hour flight to Detroit. Nick is wedged into the middle seat, between this poor, mewling little schlub by the window and a really big meatball of a man with a mustache and a polo shirt bearing a high-school football team logo. I guess he’s a coach or something. Lots of those around these days. My seat is in-between a weird couple that I think may be working through an estrangement. It’s an awkward, uncomfortable flight. But we get to Detroit. The flight from there is wonderful, the pilot putting us on the ground in Ft. Wayne in about 28 minutes.
Nick and I ask each other why the hell the flight from Ft. Wayne to Detroit wasn’t as swift? If we’d had the same pilot on THAT flight, we’d have had another night in Las Vegas. Nick mentions that maybe one day was enough. He mentions that any longer, and we’d have blown through a lot more money. He’s right, but we could’ve seen some shows…seen the Hoover Dam…gone skydiving…taken a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon…driven to LA…whatever. But yeah, that stuff costs money, so maybe this trip was just fine. Twenty-one hours. That’s how long we were actually in Las Vegas, Nevada. Twenty-one hours. Christ, we were in planes for almost that long. Twenty-one. Blackjack. That’s lucky, right?
Next time, Vegas. Next time.