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Dealer Has 21

Bill and Jacqueline in Las Vegas: March 28-April 4, 2001

By Bill Walsh

DAY 2 (Thursday): To the Nugget

It's breakfast time but we're not quite hungry yet, and so we step out of the elevator (did I mention that the Las Vegas Club has the best elevators in the universe?) and head to some nickel double-bonus poker machines. I lose a dollar or two in one machine that's having some mechanical difficulties, then cart all those nickels to the change window to start over with paper money. My $10 seed quickly sprouts $40 as I hit four aces, and I stick around long enough to cash out with $53.75 -- a two-bucket trip to the change window. Jacqueline's $10 becomes zero, and we head over to the Golden Gate for a little blackjack. That five-deck shuffler continues to be cruel to us; I lose $35 and Jacqueline loses $20. All that hemorrhaging of cash can make you hungry, and we decide to head back to the Club and try the Dugout. A party of six beats us to the door in a photo finish, and we wait way too long as a table is procured for them. We're offered a table out in the corridor, which is just fine. A poster of World Series programs through history hangs over my shoulder to entertain us. We order from the menu of $1.89 specials; I get pancakes and sausage patties (there's a choice of patties or links -- a nice touch) and add two over-easy eggs; Jacqueline goes for biscuits 'n' gravy. Everything is very good, even Jacqueline's spicy potatoes O'Brien, which I sample liberally even though I usually prefer shredded hash browns.

While we're eating, who should walk by but Good Luck Guy from yesterday at the Golden Gate. He good-naturedly spouts some of the usual gambling mythology and we nod and smile. Turns out he's from Madison, Wis., not Minnesota or Canada (but I was close).

We're booked at the Golden Nugget for the next four days, and we check out of the Las Vegas Club and head over there around noon. Quick, easy check-in at the Nugget's South Tower desk, and our room is even ready. Having seen all the frolicking in the unseasonably warm sun going on over at the Plaza, we had decided to make a swim our first order of business -- but this would be impossible, as the Nugget's pool is being renovated. Come to think of it, the place is pretty stingy when it comes to keeping the pool open, so it probably would have been closed till April 1 at the earliest anyway.

Another disappointment: A quick inspection of the bathroom reveals that the Nugget's famous oatmeal soap has been robbed of its oatmeal. I'll be dredging the bowels of the godforsaken MGM Grand in search of the stuff, you can count on that.

But, on the whole, this is still a great place. Not to sound like the big, fat snob that I am, but the carpet and the wallpaper and the marble are comforting even though the Club's room was bigger. The tables at the Nugget tend to be too rich for our blood, however, and soon we're back at the Las Vegas Club for a nice, long session at a $3 table with the shuffle machine. My brother Terence is scheduled to arrive from Phoenix today, and so we're watching Jacqueline's cell phone closely. A while into this session, she notices a missed call from the 702 area code. I head to a pay phone to call Fitzgerald's, where he's staying, and he's there. We tell him to hurry over to claim the empty seat at the $3 table. By the time I return to the table, however, the seat has been taken and the minimum has been raised to $5. So we wait outside the Club, next to the "gourmet hot dog" stand, to meet him.

When he arrives, we decide to play at the Golden Gate. There's a $3 double-deck game, and we're doing OK. OK, that is, aside from the ever-present downtown phenomenon of the Grizzled Prospector. This particularly gross, incoherent and foolish one (money plays, $200!) decides we shouldn't be hitting on anything over 11, no matter what the dealer is showing, and won't shut up about it. On a brighter note, we finally get a dealer who isn't an automaton. Julie, a rare non-Asian dealer at the Gate, is a pretty young thing, but more important she's friendly and bubbly and funny and actually seems to be trying to earn a tip or two. And what do you know, she gets a few tips. If it's true that the dealers have to pool and split the tips, there are one or two or a couple dozen freeloaders who have some explaining to do. That's not an easy job, but why not at least try to make it pleasant for everyone?

Terence hasn't eaten all day, eschewing even the Southwest Airlines peanuts, and excuses himself to grab a hot turkey sandwich at the Bay City Diner. When he gets back there's a tale of a cockroach and a pant leg -- oh, well. We like the place for breakfast. Maybe the roaches are still asleep then.

We get back to our room just in time to catch the end of "Survivor." That shrew Jerri gets voted out! We couldn't be more happy. Stefano's, the Italian place in the Nugget, comes to mind for dinner, and we're able to get a late reservation. The service is a little iffy, but the waiters never sing, so that's a good trade-off. My cioppino is good but probably not worth the price, and Jacqueline's penne Bolognese is just right. In both cases the servings are way too large to finish. As a nightcap, Jacqueline and I return to the Gate for some $5 double-deck; we split a $100 buy-in and leave when we're a little above even.

NEXT: Slumming and Bumming