A collection of ephemera.
I’m heading for Vegas next month for boys’ trip. That will mark my 16th visit there in 19 years. Let’s run ‘em all down, shall we?
1. Bally’s, back when it was a fairly high-end hotel. I remember a few things: Trying not to blow it with my still-new girlfriend, learning how to play blackjack and wandering around the Caesar’s shops for the first time in an exhausted haze. The fake sky in there is still one of my favorite things to see in Vegas, even though other malls in town have copied the effect.
2. Stayed at Circus Circus to save money. Should have spent the money to stay elsewhere. Had my first screaming-hot blackjack run at the old Stardust and was given a torrent of abuse for refusing to bet more than $25 a hand, even though I simply couldn’t lose.
3. Went to a convention at the LV Convention Center and stayed at the adjacent Hilton. The casino there was sleepy, but I was happy to extract enough cash from it to go home and buy a bed with the winnings.
4. Stayed at the MGM Grand and got hammered at the tables everywhere. This made me so miserable that I didn’t return for nearly three years.
5. Stayed at the divey Imperial Palace, in a room straight out of 1976. The mirror on the ceiling was creepy, but I still have a soft spot for this low-roller casino. One of the people with us on this trip won $35,000 playing $5 Let It Ride, when he hit a royal flush with a $1 bonus bet out. The pit boss said he had been working there for more than a decade and had never seen anyone hit the royal (Let It Ride is a derivation on stud poker; the odds of hitting a royal are 1 in about 650,000).
6. Stayed at the Aladdin (now Planet Hollywood). Rooms there are nice. The casino ate me alive.
7. Fitzgerald’s downtown (now the D Resort). I remember this because I purchased some crazy-cheap package over the first weekend of March Madness that included car service from the airport, rooms and a couple of comped meals. The rooms were nicer than I expected and this is probably the best deal I’ve ever gotten as a Vegas low-roller. This is also the first time I ever played craps — at Binion’s, of all places, back when this now-forgettable downtown joint was full of characters and smart-assed dealers at the craps tables.
8. Fitzgerald’s again on a one-day layover after a San Francisco vacation.
9. The Tropicana on my first boys’ trip. I also call this “The Trip Where I Decided Never to Drink Tequilla Again.” However, I did have some fine luck at the craps tables and came home a winner.
10. The Flamingo on a trip with my family. I got off the plane, checked into the hotel, walked into the Barbary Coast (now Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall) next door, sat down at a table with family members and walked out of there a couple of hours later with an extra grand in my pocket. I managed to hang on to most of it through the trip. This is the only time I’ve ever gambled black chips.
11. Planet Hollywood on a boys’ trip. Got an outstanding bargain on the hotel rooms because the hotel was in the midst of being converted from the Aladdin. We never noticed the construction at all.
12. Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall with a bunch of friends. Most of them actually stayed at Bally’s across the street, but I wanted to try Bill’s because I had read TripAdvisor reviews about the place. The hotel is small and sits over one of the divier casinos on the Strip, but the rooms are unexpectedly nice and the one we had featured an outstanding view of the Bellagio fountains. It was noisy, though — the rooms with views are extremely close to the intersection of Flamingo Road and the Strip, and that location is a vortex of crazy. Most bizarre moment: Running into about half of the usatoday.com tech support staff at 1 a.m. at a craps table at Bill’s.
13. The Golden Nugget for my 50th birthday. We stayed in the then-brand-new Rush Tower and the room was perhaps the best I’ve ever enjoyed in Vegas. The pool area at the Nugget is something special as well, although we couldn’t really enjoy it in January. Also took a fun tour of the Neon Museum.
14. Harrah’s on a boys’ trip. Harrah’s is for gamblers and folks who want to have old-school Vegas-style fun. One of the boys slipped, fell and cut his noggin open at Toby Keith’s bar here on the first night. I already was in bed by that point, fortunately; most of the other folks on the trip spent the night in the emergency room, waiting for the unfortunate victim to get patched up.
15. The Flamingo, again with some family members. Really enjoyed some quality family time around the blackjack tables at Carnival Court, even though the bands there are so loud that you can’t even talk to each other. Also had a memorable Valentine’s Day meal with my wife at the Top of the World restaurant at the Stratosphere. The Only-In-Vegas moments at that bizarre revolving rooftop restaurant included watching the lights twinkle on in the valley and the Strip as the sun set, and seeing bungee jumpers fly by the windows as we had dinner 107 stories up.
And that brings us to Trip 16. I currently have reserved a Go room at the Flamingo, although I might opt to save a little more money and stay next door at Bill’s, which gives you access to the Flamingo pool and lets you get in and out of your room without the cross-country hike necessitated in many Vegas hotels. And I owe my wife another trip, one with just the two of us at a nice hotel. Vegas never gets old to me.
You can see it start to happen now. The hitters are hitting, the pitchers are pitching, and the Nats still have some great players who will reappear in the second half after recovering from injuries. This team, already in ownership of the National League’s best record, is still on the rise.
How would you like to face a Desmond-Harper-Zimmerman-Morse-LaRoche-Werth lineup? How do you pitch around that, knowing that playing it careful with one hitter means you just get another who’s almost a clone of the last guy? How do you stand in the box as a hitter when the pitching staff also consists of wave upon wave of nasty-strike-throwing power guys who can mow you down? When Steven Strasburg is the third-hottest pitcher in the Nats rotation, how do you play against that?
You don’t. You lose, and the Nats win.
I now think the Nats are very possibly a 100-win squad. If they assert themselves to their genuine capabilities, they’re the best team in the National League. Now, to me, it looks like no one can touch the Rangers or the Yankees when it comes to overall talent — but, as the Rangers have learned the past two years, playoff baseball is not regular-season baseball. The overall balance of the Nats will serve the team well in both the regular season and the playoffs. And this might be a very very very special season indeed.
I did a gig today where I played a lot of tremolo harmonica, a type of harp not often played by harmonica players. I also played a lot of background fills and chugs, since this particular gig called for a lot of acoustic stuff, and a few people came up to me today and asked me about my influences.
Most harmonica players will list the old-school guys — particularly Little Walter — as their top influences. But for me, it’s Mickey Raphael.
Raphael is Willie Nelson’s harp player, and he’s been with Willie for nearly 40 (!) years. When I first started playing around with harmonicas in the early 1980s, Nelson was at his “outlaw” peak and I was fascinated with the tone I heard from his harmonica player. “Stardust” and “Willie And Family Live” were in fairly constant rotation on my record player, and I particularly liked the weird accordion-like tones I’d occasional hear. Eventually, I figured out this was a tremolo harmonica, and that’s when I started learning about Raphael.
He has a round, warm tone — my tone will always be brighter, I’m afraid — and he is as punchy a player as anyone I’ve heard this side of James Cotton. Raphael also understands how to play in the background far better than most harp guys, and that above all else has been a tremendous influece on me. It’s kept me away from some of the bad habits that you hear from so many bar-band harp players who don’t know when to shut up and can’t do anything other than play leads (sometimes badly). Raphael’s influence has made me into a musician who values tone over style, and who values the band’s overall sound over how I personally sound at any given time.
So the next time you hear any Willie, open your ears and pay attention to the harmonica. You might be surprised at what is going on there.
1. I thought this line on Woot! was hilarious: “Microsoft has created a tablet that’s FATED for Woot!”
2. I have installed Ubuntu, Mint and Windows 8 Preview at different times as the operating systems on my home media PC in the last few months (of course, a full-on geek would have multi-booted this setup).
3. Over the weekend, I spent about an hour comparing the guitar-amp tone of some older-than-me Marconi 6v6 military-spec tubes with modern JJ and Chinese-made Groove Tube 6v6s. All of this was done with a guitar amp that is a clone of a design from the late 1950s.
4. I also unsoldered an old element from one of my harmonica microphones and soldered it back into another one.
5. I’m thinking about trying to calibrate my oven thermometer. I know nothing about how to do that. So far, I’ve resisted the urge to act. So far.
I’m not a Twitter guy, and that’s no knock on Twitter. It’s just that people in my age peer group aren’t Twitter people either, meaning I’d largely be posting into the ether for no apparent reason.
I’m also not a Tumblr guy. I (obviously) already have a blog and Tumblr violates one of my basic tenets: When you go to its home page, it doesn’t say what it is or what it does. That sort of thing leaves me cold — I first saw this behavior with Delicious, back in the insufferable days when its actual url was del.icio.us, and I’ve hated this sort of ‘design’ ever since.
Pinterest is something I might find useful, if I allowed myself to get sucked in. I haven’t allowed myself to get sucked in.
I really don’t want to tell everyone where I am at any given time, so I don’t use Foursquare. Groupon failed my signal-to-noise-ratio test, so I cut off its emails.
My point is that (with the exception of Tumblr) I think all of these packages/services are perfectly fine — but I don’t use them. It’s generally not because I have anything against them. I’ve just made the choice to not incorporate these services into my life.
This does not make me an old fart. It makes me someone who has evaluated the technology that is available and uses the services that best fit his lifestyle. I’d argue that if everyone did this, there’d probably be a lot less stress in the world and real communication would not suffer.
Hokum is written by Randy Lilleston, a Washington-area journalist. This blog contains a variety of insignificant thoughts. I started it in March 2006, but a
stupid unfortunate event in November 2007 led to the accidental deletion of all posts before August 2006. Enjoy.