Now less abridged!
I have five minutes until I get on a plane back to Vegas. I have more stories from the past three weeks than I will ever be able to write. I don't have time to tell this story, but something inside me is dying to start.
"It's always hotter in the parking garage," I said. The Mark had to pee, Wil should've been sleeping, and Spaceman was on a three-week waking binge that even Pauly couldn't handle. We had just crossed the street into the Gold Coast parking garage. The idea was a simple one. We didn't want to play big. We wanted to play little. We wanted to play $5 Pai Gow.
"I've stayed here before," Wil said as we passed the registration desk.
"No, you haven't," I said. I was sober, save a couple beers and a shot of tequila that some photographer found in the back of a trailer. The photog said they had a frozen drink machine in there, too.
Into the pit. We walked like a thirty-something version the Resevior Dogs, without the black suits or violent demeanors. We were like Swingers, but without the good looks and hip banter. We walked like low-rollers. We wanted to play $5 Pai Gow.
And, of course, we wanted some steak and eggs.
Zone 1 is boarding. I'm in Zone 2
The $5 tables were full. We begged for four empty seats together, but the pit boss wasn't having it. Suddenly, The Mark was spreading six grand in hundreds across an empty table. I dropped a roll of $4,000 on top of it. Thirty seconds later, a new boss was there.
"A quarter a hand okay for you guys?"
Sure it is. Sure it is, indeed.
Zone 2 boarding...and this story waits...
Now in Hotlanta, with a dry sandwich and a watery diet soda in my system. This Dell Inspiron almost decided to shuffle down that mortal coil. Then, Lazarus at Hartsfield International, it popped up and said, "Keep writing, bitch."
Quarter a hand. When I told this story later, the listener thought I was playing really low. Instead, I instructed, we'd managed to find a table playing for five times what we planned. However, as we had stood an beseeched the eye in the sky, pointing to our stacks of cash, and screaming, "Helllllloooo," it was evident we were sufficiently rolled for the game.
What's the right buy-in for this game? A couple hundred a piece sounded right, and suddenly eight hundred bucks was on the felt and getting turned into green. The pit boss eyed us warily, but summoned all forms of service. A cigar for The Mark, cigs for Spaceman, a round of drinks for the low rollers. I mistakenly ordered a beer.
It started badly. No one won a hand except the dealer. Something was wrong. We tried to summon every ounce of winning energy we had, but the atmosphere was decidedly off.
The dealer, a decidedly male fan-boy type, was looking at Wil. "You're..."
Indeed, Wil was. He has been for years. He's more famous than he lets on. I've been walking down hallways where people yank out cameras and shoot him like Us magazine or People might be buying big. I've seen other celebs go out of their way to talk to him. Wil is the humble type and won't let you believe he's famous. He is.
It was established Wil actually was Wil. He was playing quarter a hand--wait, $50 a hand, now--Pai Gow poker in a dark, smokey, off-strip casino at 3am. Wait, maybe it is 4am now. But, he's nice, and he's telling about his favorite episodes, and he's signing autographs for the entire pit staff.
But we're not winning yet. I just wanted to teach the boys the game. And, of course, get some steak and eggs. (Note: Another time, I may tell the story of trying to woo a pit boss named Simone at the Excalibur, then getting a casino host out to witness my $200 a hand bets, and to then REFUSE steak and eggs on general principle.)
Then it hit me. Just as Spaceman and Wil started into telling the life stories of the cowboys on the $25 chips (Don Gay? Is that right? Am I remembering a cowboy named Don Gay? I remember Bodacious the bull, for sure, but Don Gay? Or was it Dennis?), I figured it out. I was drinking a blue-wrapped, room temperature Bud Light. There was neither vodka, nor grapefruit juice on the table.
The short-skirted girl was at the table as if the ten grand we put on the table would be hers before night's end.
"We need greyhounds, ma'am. All of us."
Wil wasn't drinking much, The Mark needs umbrellas in his drinks, and Spaceman is a beer man. But damn it, there is a way this game is played. And we're down a collective $300. No make that $400. And I'm in my pocket. What? I'm buying in again? I've got too much money on this table.
Pai Gow is a game of playing even. You play for the drinks, the cigars, the company. And, of course, the steak and eggs. I wasn't leaving down. It appeared I wasn't leaving at all.
Now, I'm not really the type to get all superstitious, but just about the time the grehyhounds showed, the dealer started dealing himself (now, it was actually a fan-girl dealer) pai gows.
"Pai Gow!" we screamed, and dutifully pointed at all the losers around us.
The pit boss, ready to leave her shift for the night stepped up.
"You're going to scare my regulars."
I looked at the regulars. They were aging, tired, Asian gamblers. They hadn't said a word all night. They were playing for a little nickel a hand and they hated everything about the Pai Gow lifestyle. They weren't getting steak and eggs. They weren't getting anything but sore-asses and finger-pointing from we low-rollers.
"Scare, ma'am?" I said. "Inspire. We will inspire them."
The winning continued. Suddenly, I was back out of my pocket. The boys were winning on either side of me. The green chips were stacking up. We couldn't stop playing long enough to pee, so we put out our chips and let the pit boss set our hands for us while we ran to the bathroom. We played the dragon like it was our own personal bitch. It was a tornado of Pai Gow activity so intense and insane that the greyhounds were all set on my napkin and my liver was fueling every bit of energy on the table. The boys read about Don Gay's exploits, The Mark blew his cigar smoke into the eye in the sky, the dealers got their autographs, and we screamed "Pai Gow!" loud enough to shake the parking garage pillars 500 yards away.
And seconds later, the old Asians woke up, stood up, pointed at their table, pointed at us, and screamed, "PAI GOW!!!!!!"
I looked at the pit boss and said one word: "Inspire."
It all passed too quickly for me to record more than that in my addled memory banks. I have no more. I only know that I looked down, counted out my chips, counted my other players' chips, and realized we were within $5 (FIVE DOLLARS!) of even. Over the past two hours, we had gambled hundreds...no wait...that was hundreds per hand...THOUSANDS of dollars. And we were down $5. I did a quick accounting of the drinks, cigars, commissions, and tokes and realized we were way, way ahead.
It was a good thing, because Spaceman and Wil were getting antsy. Just then the pit boss walked up and handed us our comp.
Steak and eggs, bitch. If Simone and that casino host could see me now.
It was with something like post coital afterglow that we four low rollers settled into the food joint at the Gold Coast and ordered our food. The table was awash with steak, eggs, shrimp cocktails, strawberry daquiris, and, for Wil, a dry English muffin.
Then the prop bets started. There exists video and pictures of that. I can only say that I lost everything I played.
Regardless, folks, as I prepare to board this final leg to Vegas, I'm bouyed only by the knowledge that steak and eggs still exist and getting them is still my game. I may need Wil's face, Spaceman's drive, and The Mark's roll to get what I need, but I get'em.
Steak and eggs.
Now boarding Zone 1