I was hoping to call this Winning Weekend, but unfortunately, my trip to Vegas deserves the title “Waiting Weekend”. Normally, the biggest wait is just getting there. Depending on traffic, a drive from LA to Vegas takes somewhere between three and a half to nine hundred hours. If you’re leaving on a Friday afternoon, expect it to be more towards the upper end of that range. Ditto for returning on Sunday. As this was a Friday to Sunday trip, Drew and I plunked down the bucks for some plane tickets, skipped out of work early and headed for the airport.
It turns out the drive would’ve been quicker. Due to high winds over the desert, we got stuck with a flight delay that was originally supposed to be eight minutes long. But due to a series of other delays, we ended up boarding about half an hour late. So three minutes turned into thirty, then forty-five, then sixty, and ultimately about three hundred. Somewhere in the middle, we were let off the plane, but we were told not to go too far because if the plane was ready before we got back, it would leave without us.
There was plenty of outrage among the passengers. One guy was screaming at the flight attendant, “I have ‘O’ tickets tonight!” I don’t think she had any connections at Cirque de Soleil, so all she could do was nod politely. “DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG IT TOOK ME TO GET ‘O’ TICKETS????” Drew and I decided to be the nice passengers who didn’t complain. The benefits of this strategy cannot be overstated. First of all, you can count on other people doing the complaining for you, so you’re likely to share in any benefits that come of the complaining (i.e., flight vouchers, free booze). And second, the abused staff members will be so grateful to you for being cordial that they’ll treat you extra-nice. Plus, most importantly, you won’t have to live with the fact that you’re an obnoxious asshole who made life miserable for an underpaid flight attendant who had nothing to do with the problem and who was probably just as eager as you were to end the nightmare.
Hanging around the airport for five hours wasn’t fun, and it was hard to stay nice when the pilot’s announcements always started with, “Okay, boys and girls…”, which is too cutesy a way to address grownups under normal circumstances, let alone when everyone’s so on edge. If that were me, I would’ve started with, I don’t know, “I’m sorry for the inconvenience” or something. But I’m the nice guy. The pilot, on the other hand, was a quality jerk.
The whole thing led me to concoct a new movie pitch, “National Lampoon’s Flight Delay”, wherein a family going on vacation ends up getting stuck in the airport and has more of an adventure there than they would’ve if they’d actually made it to their destination. (Mom goes off her nut trying to get the brood switched to another flight, only to encounter typically byzantine airline clusterfucks, Dad makes an off-hand comment expressing his anger at the airline and ends up being detained, poked, prodded and interrogated by security all day, Sis has a whirlwind romance with a non-English-speaking Swedish hunk in the international terminal, and Junior thwarts a hijacking plot.) Of course, this would be nothing like “Jerry and Drew’s Flight Delay”, which mostly amounted to me teaching Drew how to play blackjack with a deck of cards I bought in the gift shop while he swapped text messages with his assistant. The only part of the actual story I’d keep for my screenplay would be that somebody should definitely have “O” tickets. That’s what we in the screenwriting biz call “high stakes”.
We wouldn’t allow ourselves to eat in the airport because we figured a nice dinner would be our reward when we finally got to Vegas. When we finally checked in at the hotel at 10 p.m., we found out that all the good restaurants were closed, and the crappy Mexican restaurant was our best option. Somewhere between the margarita, the fajitas and the lingering airport anxiety, I started to feel really sick, so we cut dinner short and returned to our room. I took a couple of Tums and went to sleep. That was the end of our first day of our vacation.
On Saturday, all my friends were arriving, but most of them were driving, so they wouldn’t be there until the afternoon. Drew and I used the time to go to my casino. (And just for the record, I’m avoiding printing my last name merely to avoid a situation like this.) The cab driver took us through seedier and seedier parts of the seediest city on Earth. He was baffled as to why we would go to such a place. “It has my name in it,” I said. “Jerry M.’s Silver Nugget. Is Jerry M. a big guy in Vegas?” I asked jokingly. “Like Steve Wynn?”
The cab driver shook his head. “You see that guy over there pushing the shopping cart?” he said. “I think that’s Jerry M.”
As we got closer to our destination, I saw a big, surprisingly nice-looking casino on the left called “Jerry’s Nugget”. It had a large flashy new neon sign that displayed the shows that were currently running in the theater as well as the latest buffet specials. “That’s not it,” the cab driver said, and then he pointed out a dilapidated chipped-paint shithole on the horizon. “That’s where you’re going.” I figured that maybe if the actual casino wasn’t something I’d want my name on, Drew and I could just walk up the road to Jerry’s Nugget and take some pictures there instead. “You don’t want to walk around in this neighborhood,” the driver warned.
When we first entered the Silver Nugget (through the adjoining bowling alley), I figured I’d lay low on the name thing, but Drew had fun telling everyone we met that I was Jerry M., as if they might be momentarily fooled into thinking I was the same guy who signed their paychecks. No one was. Nor were they the least bit amused, curious or interested. We had breakfast in the coffee shop (the average menu item cost about $3, and the upcoming Thanksgiving Day Turkey Dinner was $5.95). Then we played blackjack at one of their two blackjack tables. I also dropped some money in a slot machine before I left, just in case there was really some luck to be had from having your name all over the casino you were gambling in. I played the nickel slots because that was the highest value machine they had.
For regular patrons, the casino offered a slot club. The redemption counter looked a lot like a skeeball prize bin, with fake jewelry and crappy casino souvenirs. All the employees were wearing Jerry M.’s Silver Nugget t-shirts, and I just had to have one for myself. Unfortunately, the casino was in the process of dropping the Jerry M. from its name, and almost all the merchandise available had already been converted to the new logo. All they had available with my name on it was a baseball cap for $3, or a windbreaker for $50. I bought the hat.
After taking a few pictures, Drew and I were ready to go. It turns out that cabs don’t line up at Jerry M.’s Silver Nugget the way they do at the Luxor, so that meant waiting again, outside, on what local news said was Vegas’ coldest day of the year.
Back at the hotel, we met up with the rest of our posse: Chuck, Meredith, Eric, Julie, Nick, Mary, Mike’s friend Rick, Mike and Victoria. A couple of the couples had show tickets, so they went off while the rest of us hit the town to gamble. Victoria wasn’t feeling well, so she went up to her room to take a nap. Later on, we were all hooking up for dinner, and I called Victoria to wake her up. She told me she was in the hospital. Right after we had left her, she started throwing up, and when she called the hotel operator, they brought up a wheelchair, carted her through the casino and sent her off to the emergency room in a taxi with a trash can to barf in.
Knowing Victoria wasn’t one to overreact about these kinds of things, Drew and I went over to the hospital to see her. You might be able to guess what kinds of people typically populate a Las Vegas emergency room on a Saturday night. Let’s just say that on the way in, we overheard a nurse asking a patient “Do you know why you’re being restrained?”. Once again, we got to be the nice people, and the nurses were extremely gracious and friendly to us. They said Victoria probably had a bad flu, but that it would be a couple of hours before the test results came back. So we pulled up a couple of chairs to keep her company for a while.
We had just come from the Imperial Palace, where some of the blackjack dealers are celebrity impersonators. So to pass the time, we tried to see if Victoria could guess the celebrities who they were impersonating. She was heavily under the influence of demerol at the time, but that was part of the fun. Victoria is a very smart, naturally funny person, but the great thing about pain medication is that it can make anyone into Emo Phillips — spacy, funny and weird. At one point, I think Vic asked me to be a bridesmaid at her wedding. She grappled with each new clue we gave her, eventually got most of the answers and a good time was had by all.
I told Drew we’d hit upon a great idea for a game show. “Demerol Jeopardy”. You take smart people, drug them out of their minds and then watch them struggle to come up with the answers to simple questions. He told me he’d heard about a variety of similar ideas, which had all failed for a variety of reasons. And he explained exactly why the show wouldn’t work. “Demerol Jeopardy” was dead before it even began. As someone who’s gone on lots of failed pitch meetings, this kind of rejection always stings, but I do appreciate the fact that dating a TV executive allows me to cut out the middle man.
Around midnight, Victoria was released, and we called another cab and waited for it to come pick us up. Vic felt much better, and she went up to her hotel room to get some rest. Drew and I were exhausted, and we wanted very much to go to bed. But we hadn’t had enough Vegas yet, and we were leaving early the next day, so this was our last chance. We decided not to let some dumb circadian cycle screw up our fun, and we took another cab over to the Sahara to meet our group. It was 1:30, and there was still plenty of drinking and gambling to do. We’d spent most of our weekend at the mercy of airports, taxis and viruses. For now, at least, sleep would have to wait.