Wednesday, August 8, 2018

I interrupt my Vegas vacation for a mid-week report

Thanks to a buddy who is essentially committing four hours for a massage at a national chain commonly found in suburban strip malls, I have time on my hands.

And only because of my own idiocy, I have the capability to provide a mid-trip report here in the greater Vegas area.

Never mind the fact I haven't written one thing about my Fourth of July week visit.

This trip is essentially an annual gathering of college friends. Beef, Woody and I all know each other through college, and have all traveled very different paths since our time stomping the campus grounds of our western Wisconsin alma mater.

This wasn't intended to be an annual trip when it started humbly enough in 2012. Beef was living in Boston, Woody in Milwaukee and me in Minneapolis. Woody wanted to travel to Boston and visit Beef, and he encouraged me to join along. The itinerary was light, but the primary goal was to attend a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park.

Woody has been attending games at MLB parks for years, and as of last year has been to all 30 parks. I've never shared his goal, but through previous travels I've attended games with him in Seattle, Los Angeles, Detroit, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago and Baltimore.

Now I'm on a quest to visit all 30 ballparks, too.

Since 2012, Woody and I have taken a few trips to destinations around the country. Some of those trips were second visits by him to a ballpark he has been to before, some were to destinations on his list.

In 2013 we went to Texas for games in Arlington and Houston. In 2014 we went to Pittsburgh. In 2016 we went to Florida for games in Miami and St. Petersburg.

During that 2016 trip, we called Beef, jokingly, and asked when he was going to join us in Florida. Much to our surprise, he wished he could have done so. He's not a huge baseball fan, but he would have enjoyed touring Florida with us.

So last year he joined us for half of a road trip that included MLB games in St. Louis, Atlanta and Cincinnati. This year we were aiming for a trip to San Francisco and Oakland, but we had to postpone it. When looking at the replacement possibilities that made sense for 2018, we decided we'd visit Phoenix.

Woody and I had discussed the Phoenix trip a few years ago. We decided that when we did it, we'd go to Vegas and drive over to Phoenix. Woody hasn't been to Vegas since 2000, and is always curious about how places have changed since he last visited. He doesn't love Vegas, but liked the idea of revisiting a city he had been to a few times for work purposes.

And as a bonus to our Phoenix game, we agreed we'd have to see a minor league baseball game in Vegas.

So with plan B in motion, Beef flew into Minneapolis last Friday, spent the night at my place and flew out with me on Saturday afternoon. Woody flew in from Milwaukee a couple hours later. Well, three hours later, as his connecting flight into Vegas was delayed about an hour.

Beef and I had picked up our rental vehicle for the week and checked into our accommodations for this very atypical Vegas vacation. We're staying at a timeshare metropolis.

Beef is a government employee who happens to work for the military. He gets access to some of the deals offered to those who are serving in the military, and one of those deals is access to cheap use of timeshare units at places all over the country. (And perhaps internationally, I don't know.) For three of us, a regular hotel room might not been the best arrangement. But a timeshare unit has worked out great, even if we're five miles south of the strip.

We're staying at Grandview, an eight-building complex with a ridiculous number of units. It's across the street from South Point, where I've never been, and it was cheap. Our total bill for 7 nights is less than $400.

There are pros and cons of a timeshare unit in Vegas, and perhaps I'll detail those another week. For now, on with the trip report.

So what do three dudes do on a Saturday night in Vegas? Grandview gave us discount coupons for the Silverton buffet. No, not the South Point buffet right across the street, the buffet a couple miles up the freeway. So we went there. With coupons we all got a 50-percent discount on our meals. For Saturday night's buffet, which has a bit of a Hawaiian theme, the cost is $24. We paid $12 each.

Decent food, slightly disappointing overall variety. The place was quite busy at 8:30, and they made it clear that at 9:15 the food disappears. Service was a bit lackluster. They cleared plates, but didn't seem interested in refiling drinks.

Food was decent, and I ate too much, but I didn't love it. I wouldn't hurry back, and I'd rather have a normal meal than pay $24 on a Saturday night for their buffet. But at $12: What a bargain!

I was on fumes by Saturday night, so after our late buffet we came back to the timeshare and had a beer, purchased prior to Woody's arrival at a local Walmart. There was no wild Saturday night in our futures.

Sunday comes, we're a bit slow to get the wheels in motion, but Woody and Beef go to the fitness center for a while. I decline, as I brought the laptop with me, as there were a few work-related odds and ends nagging at me, and I didn't want to let them go unattended prior to Monday morning. So I spent an hour or so working on my first morning in Vegas.

Perhaps I could have left the computer at home if I had worked longer on Friday night back in Minnesota. I was up until 3 a.m., but Beef and I spent a couple of hours having beers and playing pinball at the ultra-hip retro arcade bar in Minneapolis. Guys have priorities.

Brunch for us was at the South Point buffet. Good, and slightly cheaper than advertised since a portion of the buffet is under renovation and therefore they don't have as many serving stations as usual. They had plenty to offer and we liked it better than Silverton.

Our Sunday afternoon began with an hour or more of pinball at the Pinball Hall of Fame, and then we headed to the strip for some old-fashioned sightseeing. We started at Tropicana, which is still a nice, old-time property devoid of any atmosphere or energy. It's sad, it wasn't that way 20 years ago.

We moved over to New York New York where we wandered around like typical tourists. I'm pretty sure neither Beef nor Woody had ever seen the inside of the place. I warned them that many of the strip casinos wouldn't be quite so ornate.

From there it was over to MGM, which I hadn't set foot inside in at least a decade. I didn't recognize anything, as it has been renovated plenty since the days when I roamed the behemoth.

We did find Level Up, the millennial-inspired gaming area that mixes arcades and gambling. As everyone else has reported, it's not very lively. Beef played a $1 game of giant Pac-Man, so I guess the concept is a success.

They did have the community gaming stations there, but weren't dealing community blackjack, or whatever they refer to the concept as. I am mildly interested in trying it, but it may not happen on this trip.

Woody, who isn't much of a gambler, decided to put a few bucks in a machine at MGM. With not much of a buy-in, he managed to trigger a bonus round that paid him $91. It was pretty entertaining to watch, and he was quite proud to be a winner.

We decided that Sunday night's dinner was going to be at Ellis Island, where we went to the BBQ restaurant, and used the reliable Las Vegas Advisor coupon for one free meal. Everybody was fat and happy, and the price was right.

We stuck around long enough to redeem the coupon for three free drinks at the bar. Woody wasn't drinking, so he tried his luck on the slots at Ellis Island. He had won another $30 or so on a machine there before we sat down for dinner, so he was convinced he was on a hot streak. That ended with the chicken and ribs, evidently.

After Ellis Island we returned to Grandview. I still had an hour or so of work to do before bed. Woody and Beef went to South Point. Beef wasn't interested in staying long, but wanted to go for a short stroll before calling it a night. More than an hour later Woody returns, without Beef. We were asleep before he returned, and I still don't know what the hell he was doing over there since he's not a gambler, either.

Monday morning arrived and we made eggs and toast in our Grandview unit. That was enough to get us started for the day. We were off to Phoenix for our baseball game. We had about five hours of driving ahead of us, and the game started at 6:40 p.m.

We had plenty of time to spare, but a major accident on Highway 93 south, along a two-lane stretch of undivided highway, ate up that spare time. Had we passed through that area 10 or 15 minutes earlier, perhaps we would have avoided it. But traffic was closed in both directions and we were stuck on the highway, along with hundreds of other cars in both directions, for about two hours. We started to doubt we'd be going to Monday night's game.

Not much to do while stuck on the highway but go for a walk in 106F heat.

But we made it to our hotel, a short walk from the ballpark, with little time to spare. We got to our seats at Chase Field just as the game was beginning. What a relief.

It was a fun game, albeit a long one. The home team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 3-2 in 14 innings. The Phillies were leading 2-0 in the bottom of the ninth, and we had no idea more than an hour of baseball was yet to be played as the bottom of the ninth began.

Since we hadn't really had lunch, and didn't eat anything at the ballpark, other than peanuts, a late meal was necessary. We drove to a nearby In-N-Out for a midnight meal.

Tuesday's itinerary concluded with a return to Vegas, and I'll detail that further when after this trip is completed. I have a busy two days ahead of me, and Beef is due to return any moment from a massage he was seeking four hours ago.

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