Sunday, August 2, 1998. D___ and I are leaving today for Las Vegas. We plan to stay there five nights--the first three at Treasure Island and the last two at the Golden Nugget. I would like to stay at TI all five nights, but I could only get their special $49.00/night room rate through Tuesday night. Since I definitely want to stay longer, I have booked us into GN for Wednesday and Thursday nights, at $55.00/night, on a deal that includes two buffets for each of us. Being a nickel blackjack player, I'm caught in that no man's land between not being eligible for "casino" room rates at the nicer establishments and being unable to bring myself to pay their standard room rates--so I shopped around and got a couple of decent deals. The object of the trip is to show D___ a good time to celebrate our anniversary--which, by the way, occurred last December--and, hopefully, sneak in a few hours at the tables. D___'s aim is to keep me away from blackjack, which she considers evil and abhorrent along with all other forms of gambling.

We have decided to drive over in our Dodge Shadow, the car I drive to work, which doesn't have cruise control. Luckily, most of the route from Albuquerque to Las Vegas is on interstate highway, so at least we won't have to worry about passing in front of oncoming traffic. However, I know from experience that not having cruise control will translate into severe right-leg cramping by the end of the day.

The trip over is uneventful, but for an unusual amount of congestion at Hoover Dam. We make it to Treasure Island at about 4:00 p.m. and have a difficult time checking in due to their computerized keying system's being on the fritz. After standing in line for about 45 minutes, we're finally able to check in; our room is on the 25th floor facing "Buccaneer Bay" and the Strip. We eat dinner at the TI buffet, then go watch the pirate show out front before taking the tram to the Mirage to look around. Later, I make an excuse to go downstairs, where I play for a few minutes in a six-deck blackjack game, ending up slightly ahead.

Monday, August 3, 1998. I have tried to plan out the entire trip to keep us busy throughout the day. My itinerary for today begins with the Stratosphere; unfortunately, I've failed to realize that the tower isn't open at 8:00 a.m., so we eat breakfast at the Strat buffet and head back to our room at TI for another hour. Finally, we drive back to the Strat and buy tickets for the tower and the High Roller ride. D___ isn't as interested in the view from the top of the tower as I thought she'd be, and the roller coaster is a snore compared to the Big Shot (which I've ridden twice before). I consider buying a ticket for the Big Shot, too, but ultimately decide I'd rather not ride it without D___.

Next we head over to the Hilton, where we pay fifteen bucks each to visit "Star Trek: The Experience." The attraction is well-done--a trekkie's paradise (especially the timeline and abundant props from the show) that compares very favorably with the "Search for the Obelisk" ride at the Luxor--but probably not worth $15.00 to anyone who isn't an ardent Star Trek enthusiast. Later, we go back to TI before heading to Caesars Palace (via the Mirage tram and the new walkways between the Mirage and CP--nice!) to see "Everest" in the Omnimax Theater and poke around the Forum Shops. I've waited a long time to see "Everest," having read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air about ten times; however, after watching it, I decide that the Omnimax's curved screen really doesn't do it justice.

Later we go back to TI and eat dinner at the buffet again. We spend some time shopping for gifts for the kids, and afterwards I go down to the casino for about an hour, playing in several six-deck games and even trying my luck in a $10.00 double-deck game. I can't seem to win anywhere, however, and the only entertaining aspect of the evening is the amusingly bad play I find in one six-deck game--newbies busting against sixes and standing on stiff hands against face cards and aces. Finally, I, sitting at third base, am roundly dissed for taking a hit on a hard 16 against the dealer's nine. I try to explain how the dealer will bust maybe two times out of ten with a nine showing, and that I'm merely trying to minimize my losses by taking a hit, but when the concept doesn't seem to sink in, I decide it's time to go to bed. It's no wonder the drop in blackjack stays high when there's so much seat-of-the-pants play!

Tuesday, August 4, 1998. This morning we take the first of two trips to the Las Vegas Mormon temple, which is, intentionally, located far from the Strip and Glitter Gulch. I am always acutely aware of the apparent contradiction between attending the temple and playing blackjack--my wife won't let me forget it, and my church leaders would strongly counsel me to avoid gambling if they knew I played blackjack (and might even yank my temple recommend)--but despite the glaring contrast between the peaceful and spiritual setting of the temple and the glitz, smoke, and noise of the casinos, I must say I love both. Blackjack is a perfect cure for sanctimony, and many church members could benefit greatly from it.

After leaving the temple, we drive back to TI and change clothes before driving out to Sam's Town to eat lunch and do some bowling. I'm not much of a bowler, never having taken lessons or bowled in a league; however, today I bowl the best four-game series of my life, scoring 143, 110, 141, and 158. D___, who used to bowl in various leagues, is not amused by my performance. From Sam's Town, we take Nellis to Tropicana and drive to New York New York to ride the Manhattan Express roller coaster. However, the roller coaster breaks down just as we get there, so we decide to walk to the Monte Carlo to pick up our Lance Burton tickets for tonight. Judging from the difficulty of getting from the NYNY parking structure to the Monte Carlo, I decide that there must be a feud between the two establishments. We finally get our tickets and decide to visit the gift shops at the MGM Grand before checking back on the Manhattan Express; however, it still isn't running, so we make plans to come back early tomorrow morning before checking out of TI.

We eat dinner at the TI buffet again--I've wanted to eat a real sit-down dinner tonight, but the buffet is just too convenient, and the prime rib and peel-your-own shrimp too good, to pass up. After dinner, we pick up our tickets for "Mystere" for tomorrow night, then we drive to the Monte Carlo to see Lance Burton, who puts on an entertaining show. His illusions are all first-class, and a couple of them are astounding. (After his Indian-shaman routine, in which he produces three crawling figures--hidden under blankets--from under his robes, disappears into a teepee, and then re-appears as one of the crawling figures, the following exchange is heard: Lady in the Balcony: "How do you do that?" Burton: "I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you." Man in the Balcony: "Tell my wife!" Burton: "Mr. President! Thanks for coming!" D___ can't believe these lines are unrehearsed, but I give ol' Lance the benefit of the doubt.)

Later, back at TI, I decide I'm sick of stupid six-deck blackjack games--I don't have the patience, stamina, or facility to count cards for more than a couple of hands at a time, plus my bankroll is way too small to spread more than 1-3 units even on $5.00 tables. So I decide not to play at all tonight, waiting instead for my favorite single-deck games downtown.

Wednesday, August 5, 1998. We get up fairly late and eat breakfast at the TI buffet before striking out for NYNY again. This time we're in luck--the roller coaster is working, and we get in a relatively short line about twenty minutes before it opens. This isn't my first time to ride it, but it's just as thrilling the second time around. (I'm thinking I need to go to Primm sometime and ride the roller coaster there.) The side-to-side jarring gives D___ a headache, however, so she stokes up on Ibuprofen before we head back to TI to check out. When I review our account (via closed-circuit TV in my room), I find that our Sunday-night buffet dinner was never charged to us, so I ask about it at the front desk. I'm told that it will probably be posted at some point, but that if it isn't, I can consider it a complimentary meal. And they said a nickel player can't get a comp at Treasure Island!

We check out of TI shortly before noon, and the three-hour lag between checkout time at TI and check-in time at the Golden Nugget affords us the perfect chance to go back to the Mormon temple for more ordinance "work." By the time we're through, it's time to check in at GN. We sign in at the South Tower check-in desk, and thus we get a room that's a long ways from the casino, which suits D___ just fine. After we reach our room, I go down to the main check-in desk to pick up our buffet coupons; of course, I also sneak in fifteen minutes of play in a single-deck game, where I "win back" the entire amount of my losses from the night before last.

Feeling good, I take D___ to the GN buffet to eat dinner, and later we drive back to TI to see "Mystere," a show I've wanted to see for some time. Unlike most Las Vegas production shows (and I've seen a few), it lives up to its own hype--a very pleasant surprise! It's almost more than one can absorb in one evening, which probably explains why people I know have seen it several times. I don't know that any Las Vegas show is worth $70.00 a pop, but if there is one, this is it.

Back at GN, I risk incurring D___'s wrath by going out to play. I go first to Binion's Horseshoe, where I go up and down for 45 minutes before taking a couple of big hits that send me back to GN. Things don't go much better there, and rather than stew all night as I drill myself into the ground (as one rather unpleasant fellow at GN is in the process of doing), I decide to give it up and go to bed.

Thursday, August 6, 1998. I don't have much planned for today. After eating breakfast at the GN buffet, we go back to the Strat in the morning to pick up a present for one of the kids. We also visit the Fashion Show Mall before going back to the room. We have plans to do the 6:30 p.m. Lake Mead dinner cruise with our friends B___ and D___ C_____, and after my wife talks to D___ on the phone, we decide to go see their house off Summerlin Parkway before going bowling again at Sam's Town. We stop off at the Desert Rock outdoor store on West Charleston on the way to the C_____s' house, then we spend a couple of hours visiting with D___ and her kids, which in the end leaves no time for bowling. On the way back downtown, we stop to have the oil changed in the Shadow, which takes nearly another hour.

Back at the hotel, we rest up for a while, then get back in the car to head out to Lake Mead. It's nearly a 30-mile drive to the Lake Mead Cruises dock, but we get there with time to spare. B___ and D___ are waiting for us, and we arrange to be seated together for dinner. The dinner menu is limited, but the food is decent. The lake-side view of Hoover Dam is fascinating, and an evening aboard a paddle-wheeler turns out to be a very enjoyable way to end our trip, despite sprinkles and scary lightning strikes in the area.

I decide I have to play a little more blackjack before leaving, so I go back to Binion's, where I have a good session, tripling my buy-in and more than erasing my losses from last night. I'm even able to score a breakfast comp for the coffee shop, which always makes us pikers feel good. (I have to admit to being a little afraid to ask for the comp after seeing a frustrated man in a wheelchair get stiffed by the pit boss when the former asks for a meal after claiming to have dropped a fair-sized wad of money at the tables earlier in the evening. I guess they hear that a lot at the Shoe.) I later go back to GN and play for a short time, doubling my buy-in and making the evening a success. I never make it to Lady Luck and Main Street Station, two other places I usually visit.

Thus, although I've spent what is, for me, a lot of money in Vegas, at least I've taken more from the casino cashier than I've left, and thus I can consider the entire trip a smashing success. Despite my five hours or so of blackjack play during the week, the trip has done wonders for my relationship with my wife, as well.

Friday, August 7, 1998. D___ and I use my comp, eating breakfast at the Binion's coffee shop, where the "Benny Binion's Natural" ham steak just about does D___ in. (As usual, I order just enough on the side to come in under the comp amount.) We then check out of GN and head out of town. Luckily, the drive back to Albuquerque is just as enjoyable as the trip over, and we find things well at home. I'm already looking forward to attending COMDEX with my brother-in-law in November!