But "invaded" is probably the wrong word because I doubt Vegas noticed us. We spent lots of time in people's hotel rooms making each other laugh, some of us quietly gambled without much fuss and when we all had a massive 28-person dinner one night, we weren't even the loudest ones in the fancy restaurant.
I think it's because we were saving the best for each other, refusing to let the powers of the snark go beyond our tight circle. And what a circle it was.
We had a gathering like this two years ago at The Luxor. This time, there were some new faces and a new hotel, The Aladdin, which is really plain on the outside, but incredibly luxurious and plush on the inside, like, say, Richard Simmons' colon. I met a few people like Aaron and Couch Baron, the great Buffy recappers and others. I got to spent time with close friends that I see more often, but who are still frustratingly far away, geographically speaking. I got to see Glark and Wing and Sarah. Sarah, in particular, made a huge impression because the last time I saw her, I barely got to talk to her at all. This time, we got to hang out much more and what I suspected was true: she's one of the smartest, funniest people I know. To hear her tell the story of her air travel to Vegas was to see someone hold a room full of people who are funny and smart in their own right be completely spellbound by a born storyteller. I'm hoping, for all of your sakes, that it becomes a full-blown Tomato Nation entry, because some funny shit went down.
The two odd things that happened on the trip there: At the Dallas airport, a woman at the Auntie Anne pretzel stand was trying to figure out what kind of pretzel to order. "Hmmm, sour cream and onion pretzel. What's that like?" she asked the Auntie Anne employee. Gee, maybe it tastes like sour cream and onion? Ya think? I can think of no food flavor that is as self-contained in its namesake. It's not like they called it Mystery Pretzel Flavor #3392.
The other was that I had to go through security twice in Austin and both times involved me taking off and unloading everything on me: watch, wallet, change, work ID badge (it had a metal chip inplanted in it), belt, cell phone, jacket. They wanded me. A lot. I took off my shoes. You know what set off the metal detector? My zipper. My pants zipper. My normal-sized zipper. Twice. Note to terrorists: start wearing draw-string pants.
As soon as I got off the plane, I felt the warmth that always comes over me when I get to Las Vegas. I love the town, at least in short bursts. The first time I went to Vegas, I thought I would hate it. I thought the town would fill me with dirty loathing, that I'd be repulsed by the excess and the human degredation. Instead, I though the excess was kind of cool and the degredation was, for lack of a better word, funny. For three days at a time at least. After that, it just feels sad. But before I go to Vegas now, having experienced it before, I now get anticipatory. The dreams of doubling down and visiting Gameworks on the strip begin.
I got to room with Heather, Jessica and Heather's hilarious roommate Lauren. They were decimated by illness and road fatigue, which was a shame, but it made for one of the funniest parts of the trip: I shared a bed with Heather and after a late night out, I came in and slipped under the covers with the 20-foot Friend Zone between us on the queen-sized. We spent a really long time lying there stiff, hands to the sides like sarcophagi, whispering stuff and giggling all, "heee heee heeeee!" forever which I'm certain kept Jessica and Lauren awake (Yes, I stayed in a room with three ladies. You got a problem with that? Neither do I.) and tossing and turning. Heather and I kept on whispering at 90 decibels, "... and then he won $400... and Danny Gans... there was a plain-clothes geisha... heee heee hee HEEEEE!" It was ridiculous, but so good to see Heather after all this time.
There was a a cowboy rodeo event in town that made it so everywhere you turned there was a guy in a cowboy hat with his arm around a skinny blonde with the skintone of a roasted carrot. I was afraid to tell people (especially cab drivers) that I was from Texas because I was sure someone was going to ask me if I was riding a bull the next day.
I actually made some money at slots which never ever happens to me, but I lost a bit at blackjack. The slots were a revelation to me, but I had a strategy that I think works: You put in a lot of money into a machine until it spits back an equal or greater amount of money to what you put in. Then you take the money and put it in another machine and repeat the process. If you come out ahead, you win. If you lose a lot of money, you go to an ATM machine to get more then start over. I found a machine at the Mirage that I absolutely fell in love with called "Winning Streak." If you get three "Winning Streak" icons on any line, it starts a game on a screen above the slot machine. It keeps spinning over and over again, winning you coin credits until it busts. Well, one time, it kept going and going for nearly 10 minutes and when it finally busted, it owed me 325 quarters. I was rich, rich I tell you! I came back later and played "Winning Streak" again and it gave me an early Christmas present of about $30 more. "Winning Streak" and I are now best friends.
Heather, Jessica, Lauren and Aaron took me to the Mirage to go watch sports for a longer period of time than I have watched sports since perhaps the last Super Bowl that the Dallas Cowboys were in. But it was great because they have an amazing amount of enthusiasm and knowledge about a team that I hadn't really even heard of. (They have schools in Southern California? Universities, even? With football teams? Who the fuck knew?) I also bet on the Oklahoma Sooners and they covered the seven-point spread as if they were made of smooth peanut butter. Thanks OU! You earned me $18!
There were also the billboards, which are an endless source of amusement if you're with pop culture skewering people such as these. Pamie made me laugh with her theory on Lance Burton stealing my cell phone signal, all of us noticed the disturbing trend of aggressive prostitution flyer distribution right on the street ("Ewwwwww!" cried one little girl when her brother shoved a nude card in her face and told her to lick it. This, believe it or not, was a highlight of the trip.), and I amused myself with tales of Sinbichie, the cloned, bastard, robotic offspring of Sinbad and Lionel Richie, who are co-headlining at the Paris casino New Year's Eve. (I also added a dash of Blair Underwood, just to make Sinbichie suave, but it went horribly wrong and Sinbichie went on a wild, murderous rampage and fell in love with Clint Holmes. The scientists had to yell, "No, Sinbichie! You were not programmed to love!")
My stomach did loop-de-loops all weekend from the strange hours, pumped-in oxygen and heavy food. I think I slept about four hours total after the first night. It resulted in my return trip to Austin being a haze of zombie walking across the Dallas airport (some genius computer glitch made my connecting flight gate two miles away from my arrival gate), going through security again (right, zipper, metal, got it), eating the worst sausage biscuit ever to escape a heat lamp, sleeping on the plane, reading Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby, which gave me strange soccer dreams, and stinking up the plane. I had a super early flight and figured it would be easier to just stay up all night. The worked, except that on the flight I smelled like a casino ashtray and other passengers on the plane were trying to figure out a diplomatic way to tell me that if they wanted to smell Vegas on the return trip, they would have smeared cigarette ashes, bourbon and cheap cologne on their shirts before leaving it.
I returned home an absolute mess. I smelled, I was hungry, I hadn't slept and my stomach had suffered more abuse than one of Tom Sizemore's girlfriends. But I was thrilled and giddy at the wonderful time I had.
Vegas: my kind of town.
Hey, look at this! Stuff to buy! Haaawwwt-Damn!
"What? You don't want to take me? What, I'm not good enough for Red Lobster?"