Tuesday, September 11, 2018

And things got interesting

So there I am, headed to the strip after 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night in early August, and I couldn't have been less excited.

I don't do the strip these days, so a night on the strip holds minimal appeal. I wasn't exhausted from the past few days of running back and forth to Phoenix, and I wanted to be a team player, but somehow I didn't have the Vegas adrenaline my buddies had.

Nonetheless we head toward Flamingo, where we're intending to meet up with Woody. I oppose it, simply because I hate the idea of paying to park at Flamingo. Beef, being the team player, offers to pay for parking. I begrudgingly consent.

What I don't realize while we're heading up toward Flamingo is that Woody has texted me. So we get to the strip, park at Cromwell, head over toward Flamingo and I grab my phone to text Woody that we're arriving and looking for him. That's when I see he sent me a text message not so long ago. He's following his new friend over to Caesars Palace.

The hell with that, I'm not chasing after him. And Beef and I are looking to have dinner. So we decide to look around and consider our options for a meal. I have no coupon deals to take advantage of, and I am not excited about paying $20 for a burger on the strip.

We consider our options along the Linq, and almost go to the Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips, but the smell of the oil when we walk into the place, which is doing a brisk business as it approaches 10 p.m., is too overwhelming to stomach. We bow out quickly.

We wander down the street and try our luck at Harrah's, and by dumb luck discover an acceptable dinner option, the Fulton Street Food Hall.

The new trend in casual casino dining, evidently, the street food hall is a glorified food court. It's not exactly fast food cheap, but it's better than fast food. And I opted for a big sandwich. I was able to upgrade from a worthless bag of chips to a cup of soup at no extra cost, and you get a bottled soda or water for your meal deal, instead of one of those crappy fountain drinks. It ain't cheap, but it was good, filling and not obscene. Beef upgraded his chips to a salad or something ridiculous like that, and that cost him an entire extra buck. I wouldn't dine like this daily in Vegas, but it was a satisfying meal that wasn't horrifically overpriced. And it was good.

The sandwich is larger than it looks, and quite filling. The soup that I chose instead of a bag of potato chips: clam chowder. Good meal, minimal complaints. I was on the strip, dining at the Fulton Street Food Hall, I was happy not to lose my shirt. Total cost: $18.40.
Woody makes contact with us as we're starting to eat. He's on his way back. That can't be a good sign.

He finds us at our table and shares with us a Vegas story I've never experienced in 35+ trips to Vegas.

After pounding the pavement for a few hours he went back to Flamingo, where we dropped him off late in the afternoon, and ordered an overpriced drink at the bar. He made conversation with a woman from Ohio. She was about his age, works in real estate and has daughters who are 14 and 20.

She seems to be fond of Woody's company, and shows it simple ways. He tells her all about himself and his trip, and she really wants to meet his buddies, but not enough to stick around when we're finally making our way to the strip. Woody followed her, and they end up at a bar inside Caesars. That's where the woman meets up with her boyfriend.

Yes, she's there with her boyfriend.

Woody is taken aback by this, naturally. She introduces him to her boyfriend. He's a farmer, if I recall correctly, and he was rather friendly. He had been gambling at Ceesars and paused to meet up with his girlfriend and meet the guy she has been chatting with for an hour or more. His friendliness made the whole thing all the more confusing for Woody.

The boyfriend returns to gambling and Woody wonders what the hell is going on. That's when the woman fesses up.

She and her boyfriend are swingers. He's more into it than she is, but she doesn't mind going along with it, and they were looking to swing while in Vegas. Her boyfriend seemed to have a woman lined up, and Woody was identified as her possible partner, evidently.

I'm not sure if the woman ever had the chance to formally ask him to join in their fun. While this scenario sounds like the type of Vegas fantasy every guy dreams about, this held no appeal to Woody. He didn't linger long, he wasn't interested in their swinging lifestyle. He made that clear, bid farewell and made his way back across the street to find us.

But man, he had one hell of a story to tell his friends, at least some of whom I know would have chosen the exact same outcome Woody did.

The night was still relatively young and the guys want to see a little scenery. By this point it's nearing midnight. For whatever reason, it is determined that Planet Hollywood is our destination. Less excited I could not be.

As we make our way toward the Ho, we notice the Beer Park outside of Paris. It's not where I thought it was. But thanks to Beef's interest and perusing of Groupon, I had purchased a $40 voucher for about $20, and I had forgotten that. Suddenly we're heading upstairs, in the heat of the night, for beer.

What a waste of time and money that place is.

It's not that crowded, so we're able to get seats looking out onto Las Vegas Boulevard. Thanks to the design of their outdoor seating, you can't easily see people walking along the sidewalk below. Yeah, you have a decent view of the Bellagio fountains, but it's kind of a lame outdoor seating area.

You'd think this was the worst Vegas vacation ever. Nope, just a buzzkill moment at Beer Park.

Nice view of Bellagio from Beer Park. Too late to catch a fountain show, however. 

You get a good look at the Eiffel Tower from Beer Park.

Not sure what kind of avant-garde photo I was aiming for with this shot from Beer Park. 
They have plenty of fancy beers on tap, and Beef, who claims to not have noticed the prices, manages to pick the most expensive beer on the list. The beers are about 24-ounce pours, and his beer was $21. Oh, Beef.

I pick a $16 beer, Woody picks an $11 beer. The total, with tax and the fraudulent CNF fee that I didn't realize was going to be tacked on, comes to about $54. Even with my $40 Groupon we owe another $14, which Beef picks up, along with the tip. So even with a Groupon discount, three large tap beers cost us about $40 including tip. What a deal!

They randomly decide they're going to close about 20 minutes after we sat down, and we're about ready to go. It's time to visit the Ho.

I'm a bit surprised by how lively the casino floor is as. There's a good crowd as it approaches 1 a.m., at least in the table games area. I don't know why, but I expected a bit dull of a crowd.

We look around a bit and Woody and Beef decide they're going to hit up a lounge, as they see two women sitting at the bar. I want nothing to do with this, so I leave them to their business and wander around for a couple of minutes. I eventually sit down at a cheap video poker machine where I can see into the lounge and proceed to play 25-cent hands of cards. I'm just killing time, and giving my Total Rewards card a little action for the first time in at least eight years.

Woody eventually sees me sitting out there and comes out to chat with me. There's talk about getting together with the women at the bar, perhaps at South Point. Why, I'm not sure, other than our timeshare unit is a lame place to socialize.

Minutes later Woody and Beef are introducing me to their new friends, and there's talk about going to South Point. I suggest we can all fit in our SUV, but the women are sure they want to drive there themselves.

Cellphone numbers have been exchanged and off we go. Woody has had a few drinks at this point, so he's Mr. Social. He is loving every minute of this. He's often a bit reserved and quiet of a guy, so it's nice to see him let loose.

We exit the Ho and are trying to head back to Cromwell, but Woody quickly starts chatting with a woman he has said hello to out on the sidewalk. It seems rather obvious that she's not there waiting to cross the intersection. But Woody is enjoying his chat, and she's quick to put her cellphone number in his, just in case he's interested in meeting up later. She has no idea there's no chance he will take her up on her offer, but he's loving it all the same.

I was surprised during my walk to the Ho, and exit from, that there were so many dudes trying to get me to take a free limo to a strip club. I know the free limo is a thing, and dudes are working to get asses in the seats, but I've been away from the strip far too long. I was surprised by the competition.

I foolishly engage a dude in chatter, just for the hell of it. There's no chance I'm going to a strip club during this trip, and definitely not at 1;30 a.m., but I acknowledge one of the dudes, suggesting I might be interested the following night, but I was just too tired to go tonight. He suggests I should go tonight, naturally, but I make it clear there's no chance. So he gives me a card, tells me to call him the following night, and thanks me. So now I'm a jerk for wasting his time when I had no intention of going to a strip club.

One thing I will never forget: As we're walking by a couple of strip club promoters, or whatever their job title is, one dope trying to drum up some business announces that he has a free limo to the strip club. Then follows that up by saying, "Prove that it still works, guys."

Does this dope have a ridiculous sense of humor, or does he think his idiotic line is going to convince some drunken buffoon to suddenly change his plans and hop in a limo? If this stupid line works, even .000000000001 percent of the time, Lord keep me from the moron who hears the dope and thinks, "Yeah, that's a great idea. I should prove it still works!"

As we approach the outside of Bally's there seem to be a few people milling about, and people coming and going. Woody is saying hello to women, single women and in tandem, many of whom look like they're coming from or going to a precious nightclub. But no, the women seem to be quite available to hook up for a price. Beef is enjoying the show, too. Me, I'm just hoping to get on the road and call it a night, as it's approximately 1:45 a.m.

Then a tall woman comes walking, alone, toward us. Beef is a couple inches shy of 6 feet, and this woman is probably taller than him without heels. He wants a picture with her, just because she's tall and he has some sort of taller woman fantasy. She happily says yes, and Beef snaps a selfie with "Starr." (I'm guessing the spelling of her name.)

I'm nearby and Beef is making chit chat. He asks where she's from and what she does. She says she lives in Vegas part-time. This intrigues Beef. She then modestly notes that she's an escort. Beef doesn't flinch, and moments later she's giving him her cellphone number. I see this, and have to interject, asking the most bizarre question she'll get all night. Would she be willing to talk about her work for my friend's Las Vegas podcast? She seems quite agreeable and that's all I need to know. I step back and let Beef continue chatting with his fantasy girl.

There are a handful of these interactions as we're milling about outside of Bally's. I sit off to the side, tweeting my agony via @vegasinsight, and try to enjoy the show. A super skinny woman comes walking toward us, by herself, and both Woody and Beef are cordial to her. She stops to talk. I try to discretely get a picture of her, and Beef calls me out, which pisses me off. I just needed a souvenir of this wacky night.

A local gives us directions to the Cromwell. 
Another duo approaches us at some point, and Woody is quick to chat with these women. I step back aside and mention I need to tweet. One of the women says to me, "Is tweeting more important than us?"

"Yes," I reply.

"Don't you want to party with us?" I'm asked.

"I'm gay," I reply.

"Really?"

"No."

I sound like a miserable jerk, don't I? But despite being tired, I'm enjoying the show, and know I have a little fodder of my own for years to come.

As we're milling about outside of Bally's, Beef receives a text from the Planet Hollywood duo. He takes a moment to update them on our progress toward our rental vehicle and ends up having a phone discussion with one of them. The brief discussion includes a question from the young lady on the phone. What's their budget for the night?

Beef simply says he's not sure and will have to talk to Woody and call her back. And that was the last communication between the parties, as far as I know.

Woody wasn't surprised by Beef's revelation, but I was. We discussed the possibility inside the Ho, and as we were walking toward Bally's. Woody had told me that one of their comments at the bar suggested perhaps they were looking for cash, but it wasn't clearly stated. When he told them he had talked to me and I was gambling, one of the women was very curious to know if I was winning money, he said.

Those two things didn't convince me that they were looking to get paid. And remember, I had met them. They were casually dressed, didn't give off the "working girl" aura, had been sitting by themselves at the bar, spent a decent amount of time chatting with my buddies and seemed willing to meet up down the road without any mention of getting paid. My theory was that they were tourists who wanted a "what happens in Vegas" story and liked the idea of my buddies paying for drinks, even if it meant going to South Point.

I was wrong. They're simply the worst prostitutes working the strip. And clearly I have no Vegas insight, despite 35+ trips to Sin City.

One last encounter outside of Bally's that I vaguely remember. As I'm assuming the wallflower position, I see Woody engage a woman in chat. She's obviously interested in something, as she reaches down and grabs him between the legs while they're chatting. Again: Something I've never experienced while navigating the strip.

We finally get inside Cromwell and are preparing to leave. Just when I think we're heading to the door, Woody announces he wants to stick around and will take a cab back later. He's just enjoying the show and doesn't want it to end, as this is likely his only late night on the strip of our trip.

Both Beef and I are opposed to this. I can't speak for Beef, but I'm a bit worried about Woody's safety. No, he's not going to get in a random vehicle or wander somewhere unsafe. No, he's not so tipsy that he can't stand up. He's fine on his own, but I'm afraid he's going to chat with some random woman and somehow wind up losing his wallet, or something stupid like that. Without one of us to watch his back, he might have another beer and let his guard down just enough that he'll wind up losing his wallet or phone somehow.

I finally concede. I'm tired. Good luck to him, I say, and Beef and I begin the journey south. Woody stayed out a couple more hours and finally headed back via cab to Grandview. His wallet was $40 lighter because he didn't have the Uber app, but at least he still had his wallet.