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Dealer Has 21

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

By Bill Walsh

DAY 5 (Sunday): Happy Anniversary, Baby

We've somehow managed to miss Main Street Station's Sunday brunch buffet on our last couple of visits, but we won't this time.

The line is long, but it moves fast. When the server comes by to take our beverage order, we basically ask for one of every liquid they've got. Coffee, champagne, water, orange juice, Diet Coke.

I can't say we get the most from our buffet dollar, as we don't particularly like lunch and dinner buffets. So we still get a good deal, but we're paying for ultra-cheap stuff like eggs and hash browns. The big draw of Main Street Station's brunch for me is the green chile, which I slather on my eggs Benedict and my scrambled-eggs-and-hash-browns mix. Jacqueline is partial to the biscuits and gravy, but once again they're too salty. We eat a good amount, but somehow we feel cheated, so we top the whole thing off with half a cinnamon roll each. You won't find "blork" in your dictionary, but that's about the only way to describe how we feel at this point.

After freshening up, and napping a little, we donate still more money to the cab cabal's coffers and head back to the Strip. With plenty of time to kill before our 8 p.m. reservation at Andre's in the Monte Carlo, we instruct the driver to take us to the Aladdin. As with all cab rides in Las Vegas, it's $20, though this one is a little more value-added because we get to see the driver yell "You faulking eediot!" at a bonehead fellow motorist. First impression of the Aladdin: Great gift shop! That purple genie bottle would look great in our living room. We cut through the casino (it's a casino; nothing special to report) and head for the Desert Passage mall. This one's like all the other newly minted casino malls, only more depressing, partly because of all the browns and partly because it's practically deserted (maybe they intended a pun?).

We make our way to Bellagio once more, this time only to use the tram to the Monte Carlo. Those 50-play machines are calling, but this time they aren't nearly so kind. We each lose dozens of dollars, and suddenly it occurs to me that we've honored the spirit of the gift certificate by dropping all this money at the Monte Carlo. I realize the bride-plus-a-year isn't likely to find anything on the very French menu at Andre's that won't give her pause, and I stroll over to confirm that. Yup. She'll order a steak, and even the steaks come with roquefort this and green-peppercorn that. We'll blow the budget on steaks tomorrow at Delmonico. I tell Jacqueline we should do something else tonight; she's willing to go through with Andre's but relieved when I insist we shouldn't. So what do we do? My dream destinations for this trip -- Lotus of Siam, Lindo Michoacan and Second Street Grill -- were vetoed before and are vetoed again, for logistical reasons if not culinary ones. We consider Chinois in Caesars' Forum Shops, among other places. Vegas has so many great places to eat, until you actually have to sit down and pick one. Jacqueline takes a restroom break and I have an epiphany: brewpub. If not here at Monte Carlo, then back at Main Street Station, closer to our home base. Bingo. Off to another cab, this one harder to get than most because of the Monte Carlo's rather obscure taxi stand.

This time we're in luck: No waiting. I take advantage of the raw bar and get me some oysters. Throw in an order of garlic fries. Jacqueline, disappointed that the wonderful pizza with Canadian bacon, pineapple and barbecue sauce is no longer on the menu, goes for chicken fingers. This will be our first-anniversary dinner, and that's fine. She mentions that she found the perfect present for me at Bellagio but isn't sure whether she can get it shipped home. I happen to have a present for her in my pocket: diamond stud earrings. They're not the biggest diamond stud earrings you'll ever see, but they weren't from the bargain basement either. "But it's supposed to be paper!" she says. "Well," I reply, "it seems like 75 years . . ." You had to be there.

Speaking of tradition, where else would we be found next but at a Golden Gate blackjack table. Unfortunately, things aren't pretty. Jacqueline has observed throughout this trip that the first hand after a shuffle tends to result in a dealer blackjack, and indeed it's uncanny. By now she's sitting out those hands, but that's not the only way they can get us. If the dealer shows 6 (hopes up!), you can be sure that will be followed by 10 (hopes up even more!) and then 5 (groan). Or 4-10-7. Or 5-10-6. Or 3-A-2-A-5. We see it all in this session. We bought in by splitting a hundred; by the time I lose my $50, Jacqueline has lost $170.

But are we quitters? No! On to Fitzgerald's, where we hope a fresh locale will bring us luck. I lose $40 in a heartbeat; Jacqueline is breaking even, but the vibe isn't right, the ambience is all wrong, and the cards are thin and cheap.

So it's back to the Four Queens. As at the Gate and the Fitz, we're playing $5 double-deck. This session lasts longer than the others, but the results are the same. Dealer has 21. Try 3-3-2-7-6. Or A-2-A-2-A-5. I could go on. The dealer is fast -- not so fast as the idiot at the Las Vegas Club a couple of years ago who took away my money before I could tell whether I lose, but fast nonetheless. Jacqueline makes a cynical remark to the pit boss about the dealers being paid by the hand, and he regales us with stories of his own speed-dealing prowess. Jacqueline is sorry she wound up the key, because soon he's all over us, telling us about the "Bullitt" Mustang he drives and challenging history major Jacqueline on presidential trivia. There sure were a lot of presidents named George, he observes. (Let's see, Bush, Bush, Washington and . . .)

Every time he steps away, the guy at third base exclaims, "What a Bozo!"

We play on, and the dealer is lucky she isn't pulling shards of cocktail glasses out of her cheeks. Oh, I know, it's not her fault. But look: 5-2-6-A-7, 3-4-5-9, 2-10-4-5. Over and over and over. Mr. Third Base gets in a bit of a lather about how he's being rated. Pit Boss Bullitt Mustang assures him he'll take care of things. The pit critter turns his back and Mr. Third Base opines, "Hey, this guy is all right!"

When I'm down $60 and Jacqueline's down $80, we're outta there.

We shouldn't even be thinking of playing, but that $5 double-deck table at a relatively quiet Golden Nugget is too good to pass up. The sound system pipes in cheesy but not too cheesy songs of the '60s and '70s. This is gambling music.

And suddenly the cards start to behave. Maybe we've had enough abuse for one night. Heck, for one trip. Jacqueline even wins the pit boss's verdict in a dispute with the dealer, who finds an ace under her 10 and then tries to take away Jacqueline's second bet on a pair of split aces. Nope, we correctly explain -- she loses only the first bet.

My fortunes sag a little in the middle of the session, but after risking a full $100 I'm $30 up. Jacqueline somehow turns $40 into $195. We're far from even for the evening, but it's a moral victory. Goodnight.

NEXT: Kicking It Up a Notch (Make That 'Bam!')