When I was 11 and my sister was 14, our family went to Las Vegas. We went again when I was 16, and again when I turned 21, but by then Nikki had graduated high school and was living in New York. So between the two of us, I am the expert on Vegas.
When Nikki and I first began making plans for the leg of the trip she would join me on, I told her that if she was willing, she could plan everything. I knew I would have four full months of having to plan every stop and every sleeping arrangement, and I was happy to let someone else take the reigns. I suggested that for a Vegas hotel she look into downtown rather than The Strip, but that’s about all I said. When people would ask where we were staying, Nikki would say, “We’re staying downtown.” To me this indicated she did not fully realize that when you’ve booked a room at one of the most historic hotels in Las Vegas, you can just say, “The Golden Nugget.”
After checking into the hotel we wanted to see a show, but neither of us particularly cared what we saw. I like magic shows, and we grabbed a couple tickets to see Comedian/Magician Mike Hammer at the Four Queens next door. Afterwards we opted to wander around Fremont Street, the covered pedestrian street at the heart of downtown. A lot has been added since I was in Las Vegas last, and being with Nikki helped me to see it all with new eyes. Often on this trip I will feel like I’m in a scene from a movie. This time, I was the young kid from the sticks on her first night in the big city. As I walked down the street filled with electric lights, I’m passed by 2-4 Elvis impersonators. I look up to see a live band performing the song “Moves Like Jagger” while a woman in a bikini dances on top of a 21-flavor outdoor margarita bar, when my attention is caught and I whip my head around to see four tourists whizz past the air above me on the zipline. Things sure are crazy in the big city.
I promised Nikki I would show her how to play roulette, the only casino game I fully understand, and we went about finding the cheapest minimums on Fremont Street. After deciding we wouldn’t be able to find anything better than 25-cent chips, we sat down at an empty table. For those who don’t know roulette, you’re basically trying to guess where a little ball will randomly fall on a big wheel of numbers. You can guess a specific number, or you can guess a group of numbers, such as all the odd numbers, or the numbers 7-12. The more specific your guess, the more chips you get back if you get it right. You will generally place several bets each spin, guaranteeing that you always lose something, but hopefully not more than you gained overall. You can also win more than once on the same round, e.g. if the number ended up being a 2 and you had a chip on even numbers as well as a chip on the numbers 1-6.
We made a deal that Nikki would buy everything up front, and I would pay her back half once she totaled up her receipts. However when we got to the table, she didn’t have enough cash in her wallet, and I offered to loan her $10 to play. If she won anything she could pay me back right away, and if she lost she could pay me back later. I showed her what I knew of the game and the dealer helped fill in the rest. A few people joined our table, which always adds to the fun of playing roulette. Everyone has their strategies. I always bet on 25 because it’s my birthday, Nikki on 19 because it’s her favorite number. One guy would place a few chips, and then randomly ask someone at the table where to put the last one. I once met a man who refused to bed on a red number. It’s silly, but it’s fun.
After a while I was down to about half my chips, and Nikki had just $2 left. Two dollars was the minimum you had to put on the board each time, and she managed to keep losing and re-winning that $2 over and over again. Eventually the odds got the better of her, and when I saw she was out of chips, I told her I would cash out the rest of mine and we could keep walking. She told me to go for one more round, and I decided to splurge. Rather than place my usual single chip on 25, I put four chips on it. The man across from me asked where he should put his final chip, and I told him 25. And that’s how I walked away with $40 in chips. I told Nikki she didn’t have to pay me back, since I considered her input vital to my eventual win. After all, she was the one that suggested I go for one more bet.
The next morning we took the bus to The Strip and walked through the casinos. I warned Nikki over and over again that Vegas is huge, and that the hotels seem closer than they really are, and that it would be really exhausting. I still surprised myself with how little ground we managed to cover before we both had to collapse on a couch in The Cosmopolitan. We watched the fountains at The Bellagio and wandered through the tiny indoor cities of Paris and New York, New York. When we got to The Venetian we started walking along an indoor canal. I kept telling Nikki that we weren’t at the “good part” yet, because I remembered it being way bigger. We saw statue performers and a piano trip playing “Music of the Night,” but we still weren’t there yet. We followed the canal to an exit, and I insisted we go back because we still hadn’t seen the best part. After much wandering, the room opened up just like I remembered it, and we got to walk along the bridges of indoor-fake-Las Vegas-Venice. It was beautiful.
On the bus ride home, a few of the passengers started calling out their destinations to get cheers from people going in the same general direction.
“Who’s going to downtown?”
“Who’s going home?”
The drunk man across from us quietly added his own sage wisdom:
“We’re all going somewhere.”