Date of Trip: March 2006
My best friend’s birthday is on St. Patrick’s Day. This year it was a big birthday (really Big), so she wanted to do something really special for her big day. The first idea was a cruise, a GalzCruz’ to the Mexican Riviera, but one of TheGalz’ could not make it that week, so she decided on Vegas instead. At first I was opposed to this, not because I don’t love Vegas, but because we always go to Vegas. And for a big birthday such as this, I didn’t feel Vegas was big enough. I go to Vegas every year for my birthday (this year will be no different), and when my big birthday rolls around in a few years, I want to be somewhere spectacular, like cruising from LA to Sydney on some fabulous cruise ship in a suite or on a wine tour with my friends in Adelaide Australia. In other words, something big that I’ve never done before.
Well, this wasn’t my day, so it wasn’t my decision. The group going consisted of myself, BirthdayGal, her Hubby, and an old GalPal from Houston. BirthdayGaland Hubby flew in from Denver, I jumped a Southwest flight from Burbank and we all met at McCarran at 4pm Wednesday, March 15th.
The day does not start off well for the BirthdayGal. She and Hubby had made reservations on United several weeks earlier, yet they were told that seat assignments were not available and would be given to them at the airport. BG asked if the flight was overbooked, and was told, “No, not at all, and don’t worry, there will be no problem getting seats.” Well, BG has flown enoughto know thatthis was a blatant lie, so they arrived extra early to get the “no problem” seat assignments only to be told they could pay more to bump up to Business class where the only open seats available were. This did not fly well with BG, and after much discussion with an über-rude gate agent, she and Hubbywere given seats in Coach but at opposite ends of the cabin.
Thankfully, I had no such problems at Burbank with Southwest. I had been smart enough to print my boarding pass the day before, and when I arrived at the gate, I sat down on the floor next to the door and opened my Vanity Fair. When it came time to board I noticed Iwas virtually the only female on the aircraft. At this point I made no connection as to why. Even after having a nice conversation with the guy next to me with his NCAA bracket sheet, it still did not dawn on me what we were going to be up against this trip.
After landing, the universe still thwarts the BG. We all meet at the MGM ticket office in the Baggage Claim area. BG is set to pick up tickets for tonight for Tom Jones (Yes,the Tom Jones, who she had seen three-times before, and I turned out to be the only one who said, “Sure, I’ll go with you!”). Unfortunately, since she had gone thru her slot-host at The Paris for the seats, she is informed she must pick them up at the actual venue box office. To add insult to injury, since Caesar’s etc. has been recently acquired by Harrah’s, we can’t check in at the airport check-in desk either because they are uploading new Harrah’s software. I normally fly in to town earlier in the morning, or late at night, and getting a cab is not that big of a deal. However, 4pm on a Wednesday in the middle of March the wait for a taxi is forty-five minutes (I’m still not cluing in.)! Instead we opt to go find a towncar and for $40, including tip. We are at The Paris and checked in by 4:30 pm.
We change clothes and head downstairs to get a cocktail and play a little video poker at Gustav’s bar, where we meet sweet bartender Tony who is from Houston. He comps our drinks and since it’s the end of his shift tells us to come over to the Sports Bar the next few days where he will be working and he’ll hook BG up with a B-day martini.
By 7:15, we head outside to grab a cab to MGM. We get to the cabstand and there is an endless line — all men (Still not getting it). Hubby goes to call MGM to tell them we’re on our way to pick up the tickets that must be picked up by 7:30 (because he’s amazing) and begs them to not give them away. We finally make it into a cab, get to MGM’s showroom and pick up our tickets at the last possible minute. We head to the Rainforest Café, where there is a 40 minute wait for a table. We grab two open seats at the bar since therewas nowait, and order what were perhaps the two worst appetizers in culinary history. The Rainforest Pita Quesadilla, which was all pita and very little queso, and the Chimi-Cha-Cha, which was dry and tasteless — a nice salsa instead of pico might have saved these dishes, but that will remain a mystery since I never intend on eating at one of these establishments ever again. If I do, at least I’ll know what not to order.
We head into the Showroom at 8:15, and sit next to Kevin, a guy who is in Vegas with a bunch of his college friends for “March Madness,” but left them to come see Tom by himself. It finally hits me.
March Madness! Oh Noooooo! I thought our biggest problem would be St Patty’s day, being that it was Vegas and a Friday. Let me explain why this was important: BG could not decide on where she wanted to have her big birthday dinner, so we had reservations all over town. There was Michael’s at Barbary Coast (which along with Dre’s are the only reasons that hotel is still standing), Charlie Palmer’s at Four Seasons, Delmonico’s at Venetian and The Eiffel Tower restaurant at The Paris. There was also a plan to do a “Pub-Crawl” style grazing dining experience, in that we’d start at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill at Caesars for appetizers, then move to The Palm at the Forum Shops for Lobster Bisque, then either to Olives at Bellagio or down the strip to Smith & Wollensky’s for the main entrée, followed by dessert at The Eiffel Tower. We had cancelled Michael’s about three days before we came to town when I found out they charged $149 for “steak of two” al a carte. I figured if that price did not includesomething “more”with your steak then no one needed to pay that kind of money, even for a top restaurant in Vegas. We also had breakfast reservations for Friday at Tableau at The Wynn. (Yes, Vegas is about eating!)
BG and Kevin have a great time as they are huge Tom fans, while I wanted to kill the lighting designer. Almost every single moment of the show they had bright Vari-Lites sweeping the audience. Within five minutes I had donned my sunglasses, and was holding the beverage menu in front of my face to save my retinas from being scorched. I’m not sure what the point of this was. Everyone knows Tom Jones is 63. He looks fabulous. If they were doing it to blind the audience and hide his age, then he should be playing a bigger venue and be farther away from the crowd. He’s adorable, and everyone loves him because he’s Tom-freaking-Jones. He puts on a great show. What’s New Pussycat and Kiss made the entire evening, but I still want to string up the lighting designer and make him stare at the sun. Afterwards we headed back and played until the wee hours.
Late Thursday morning Hubby brings Houston and I coffee (did I mention he’s amazing?), and then we head down to the casino. We try to find a bar to sit at, play video poker so we can have some free cocktails and not wait for the odd cocktail server to wander by, but every single bar/lounge is packed with guys in packs, smoking cigars and staring at basketball on every available monitor. We finally find two empty spots at Le Cabaret bar. There is another empty seat by two guys watching basketball. The plan is to get this extra seat and wait for one of the other dudes at the bar to move, then the Galz can be together as Hubby is happily playing slots off by himself. I lean over and ask Dude #1 if I can steal the empty chair. He smiles and responds, “You baby, can steal anything!” I smile, tell him he made my day, give him a hug, and start to move the chair. Cranky bartender tells me I can’t move the chair because it will block an aisle. At first I think he’s joking. Then I blink at him in disbelief and try to imagine where this aisle he has alluded to might possibly be or if it does indeed exist since this lounge is wall-to-wall “ManPacks” watching March Madness.
Houston goes to the other side of the bar where there is one available seat and BG and I sit in the two open seats. Dude #1 asks where I’m from, and he offers to buy us both drinks (that we’re getting for free since we’re playing). Dude #2, who turns out to be his brother, tells BG he can “make her birthday a very memorable one” as Dude #1 is giving me his phone number. “I’d really like to buy the Birthday Girl a drink and hang with you all tonight! I have my Blackberry with me so please call.” We smile politely then finish our drinks and decide to move away from the Testosterone Pool. BG remarks that she hasn’t had a “drive-by” proposition in a while. We howl.
At 12:30 pm, we all meet and have lunch at Mon Ami Gabi, one of our favorite restaurants in town. My dear friend Mark, who moved a year ago to Vegas to star in Forever Plaid at The Gold Coast joins us, and has gotten us free tickets to his show that night. We start with a bottle of Letour Chardonnay and the amazing Baked Cheese & Tomato with Garlic Toast appetizer. Mmmm! I try to keep it light and order the Endive & Pear Salad, BG has the French Macaroni & Cheese, while Mark orders the Onion Soup Burger. Hubby & Houston each have the Chicken & Brie Sandwich. Of course I have a taste of everything on the table. The Mac & Cheese is amazing since it has French ham chunks in it, and the Onion Soup Burger is astounding. We finish with Flourless Chocolate Cake. So much for keeping it light. We then all proceed to fall into afternoon food-comas.
We dress and head to the I-can’t-believe-this-hotel-is-still-standing Gold Coast around 7 pm for Forever Plaid. Great show! We all laugh ourheads off. Afterwards, Mark is starving so I go with him to get food while BG & Co head back to Paris/Bally’s to play so BG can keep her casino rating up since she is getting her room comped and working on comping ours. Mark and I end up also going back to Paris since he has some friends who work at a lovely restaurant there that I never knew existed (since I always seem to gravitate to Mon Ami) called La Provençal. Great menu! A little pricey but not terribly, and the servers sing.Killer sing. Arias. Floor traffic out in the casino/shopping area comes to a standstill when these people sing. Amazing. Mark has a small salad, I have some lobster bisque and we split some four-cheese gnocchi. YUM.
I head to bed about 1am. Houston, my roommate comes in from the Black Jack tables at 2:30 am. She, BG, and Hubby grabbed a late supper at Café Ille St Louis at 1am. Needless to say we bail on breakfast at Wynn which is a shame since BG has yet to see it. (Maybe we’ll all make it there for my b-day.)
At last it’s the big birthday. Hubby again delivers java, and BG has decided that if we do the restaurant crawl for dinner we’ll be stuffed after soup, so she decides on just Olives at Bellagio for dinner to avoid getting in a cab. I call this a smart move. I spend 30 minutes calling and canceling reservations.
We hit the casino by 11am and head to the Sports Book to find bartender Tony to make BG her martini. However, we find it packed wall to wall with the ManPacks in a sea of smoke. We wave at Tony and run away to find some oxygen.
[Observation: The last several years the smoke in Vegas has not bothered me very much. The newer casinos all have very high ceilings with great circulation, and fewer and fewer people are smoking these days. This time it was horrid. I finally got sick of drowning my eyes in Opcon-A every 20 minutes and kept my sunglasses on 24/7.]
At 2 pm, we head back to Mon Ami since our dinner reservations are not until 8:15pm. Again we begin with the Cheese & Tomato thing and a bottle of Chardonnay. Dinner is 6 hours away so I proceed to have brain damage and ask if they can make me a roast beef & brie sandwich (a little treat TheGalz” indulged in almost on a daily basis on our last GlazCruz” to Mexico. Mooooo! Way too much food. Another great lunch, another food-coma.
We meet and play some more around 6 pm. I have to run back to the room for a sweater and I run into Dude #1. “Baby! When are you going to call me?! I really want to party with you tonight!” I smile and make the excuse it’s up to the BG. He tells me it will be worth my while as I walk away. I should have just asked if he was into soccer, that would have been the end of it.
At 7:45 pm, we pry ourselves from the casino take a walk to Bellagio for the big birthday dinner. As we cross the street, we notice that The Strip is traffic-free. Whaaaa? It’s Friday night. St. Patrick’s Day. No traffic. Why? Because everyone is watching NCAA basketball.
We arrive at Olives and are seated immediately. Our waiter Chris is great. Everyone is still rather full from lunch that seems like only an hour earlier because of the nap. BG orders a Caesar Salad and Carpaccio trying to keep it light. Houston orders an amazing but rich Goat Cheese Ravioli, and Hubby and I order a Braised Short Rib Pappardelle with sweet & sour turnips that is Heavenly! All with a nice bottle of Pinot.
BG doesn’t finish her Caesar so I help (of course). Then her Carpaccio arrives and suddenly she looks as though she might cry. The plate is covered edge-to-edge with beef and looks as though it could feed the cast of Mystère. We all help her.
After dinner we waddle back across to The Paris and head up to The Eiffel Tower restaurant to have a drink and some dessert in the lounge. Let me just say what a breathtakingly beautiful place! The lighting is low and sexy. It seems every table in the place has an amazing view of the Strip. They’re playing Frank, thus I’m in Heaven.
There are a group of people at the main bar singing in some beautiful foreign language, so I get up and ask them to sing to the BG, they do and adopt us as family. They’re from Detroit and we never figure out what language they were singing in. My guess is Greek or Armenian. What a great group of people! The Raspberry Napoleon arrives and BG has her name and Birthday wishes spelled out in chocolate around the plate — gorgeous presentation! I decide I’ll attempt to talk Tommy into bringing me here for a romantic dinner next trip.
We finally stop eating and hit the casino. I reach my limit for supporting the fine community of Clark County, Nevada and decide to head upstairs around 1 am. I stop at Gustav’s bar to get a mug of hot water to make a cup of tea before bed. On my way with my mug-o-agua I hear, “hey cutie, want a ride?” I turn and see a sweet looking cute man with his entire right leg in a cast heading towards me on an electric scooter/wheelchair thingie. I think what the hell, and say, “Sure! Take me to the elevators please!” After surviving a sharp turn where we both almost ended up on the floor, he obliges and off we jet towards the elevators with me on this guys lap who is shouting, “make way! Hot water!” I disembark at the elevators as he begs me to keep him company. I tell him my man is waiting upstairs and beg off. I am in my room no more than three minutes when the phone rings. Hubby is on the phone asking me how I liked my ride thru the casino, and what was I doing torturing that poor handicapped man. I howl.
Houston makes it up finally around 5 am after a lucrative night at the black jack tables. The next morning I am a bit katznjammer. We pack, since our check out is 1 pm when we are all heading en masse back to McCarran. I head down to the business centre and print my boarding pass miraculously getting group A. We all end up again at, surprise, Mon Ami for lunch. Mark and a friend of his meet us there. We have a great conversation since all of us worked at Disneyland. Mark’s friend still does, so she updates us on all the latest horrors.
Lunch gives me some life, but by the time I get to the airport I am ready for a nap. We all say our good-byes as we’re dropped off at our various airlines. I get to my gate, and plant myself again somehow as the first person in A for my flight (most likely because I’m there two hours early).
The flight is packed so I head back to the last row since they exit from both the forward and aft doors in Burbank. There is a storm front heading in over the Pacific so the captain warns us of some chop. There is in fact, so much chop they order everyone to remain in their seats the entire 50 minute flight and forgo any beverage service. Funny, I’ve had worse turbulence with beverage service.
Normally, I end up arriving at every airport on my BUR/LAS trips so early that my bag usually ends up on the flight before mine and is waiting in baggage claim for me. This trip when I arrive at both airports even earlier than normal, my bag goes on both of my flights so I must wait. Wacky.
Tommy picks me up in the rain, get me home, plants me in front of our fireplace wrapped in a warm blanket cuddled by two kittens and feeds me yummy Thai food. I am beat. I need a vacation.
Great times with old friends. It’s great to be home, and I’m already planning my Vegas birthday trip in May!