There exists in me an excited queasiness every time I know that within hours I will be standing around a craps table, or spinning a slot machine. As a fan of most vice, gambling is an illicit activity that when coupled with my penchant for thrift doesn't get me in as much trouble as my other so called sins. The butterflies inhabited my belly the day of my trip to watch the Cubs play their annual two-game series in Las Vegas. Having enjoyed the baseball picnic that is Spring Training in Phoenix, I was ready for a change of scene, a little more excitement, and a reunion with my best friend Johnny Onomotopoeia. Johnny's a musician I met 13 years ago after he answered an ad in the Village Voice that read, "Drummer Wanted: Long Hours. No Pay." It was time to have a little more fun than is usually allowed. For cheap!
Grabbed a cab ($25) from the EZ 8 motel ($54), which conveniently moonlights as a nightclub, OTB, and suspected brothel, to the upper west side of Phoenix where LV Shuttles, known for their shuttle service to Mexico, also runs the most convenient and direct van transportation to Las Vegas. The Greyhound is cheaper by $15, but takes between three and four hours longer. Goto bus is $10 cheaper, but gets you into Vegas at 2 a.m. LV Shuttles takes five to six hours depending on traffic. A direct shot! Unfortunately, cabs in Phoenix are not cheap, the $25.00 to the shuttle departure location amounted to nearly half of the $55 the shuttle charges to Vegas! This one day of transportation amounted to 10 percent of the entire $800 10 day expenditure. Next time, I'll take an Uber car which estimated the trip to be $10 cheaper, or the hour long public trans bus ride, $2. Three bucks a mile is too much to pay considering how far apart everything in Phoenix is.
My Chariot Awaits! Time to spend 5 hours with these guys...
Get a little mariachi fueled writing done...
Three hours later.....
Don't worry. The music came back on a few seconds later...we must have just hit a desert dead spot. I'm just happy I didn't end up picking lettuce for a week after this trip. Though that would have been fine, at least earn a little money... but I'd rather be here!
Here's a money-saving tip for a Cubs fan if you come to Vegas for the annual Spring series. Stay downtown! Not only can you play $3 craps and blackjack, but the slots are at least 10 percent looser than on The Strip. The drinks and food are cheaper, the hotels are less expensive, and being that Downtown is competing with The Strip for popularity, it's easier to get comped rooms and free buffets if you play. Luckily for me, my buddy Johnny Onomatopoeia has gambled away a few weekends recently, and got us two free nights at the Downtown Grand! Cost of lodging for two nights in Vegas? Free!!!
Not bad for free, eh?
The most important reason for a Cubs fan to stay Downtown on Fremont Street is that Cashman Field, home of the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s, is only a mile or so away, an easy walk or short cab ride. And though Downtown has the reputation for being a little trashier and full of lower-class people, that is precisely why I go there. I know who I am, and let's face it. Poor people are way more fun. Plus, on Fremont Street you can see this!
Tracheotomy Big Bird? At least there was this guy....
And I met a few Cubs fans... Angel and Miguel... who tipped me to the fact that the Cubs usually stay at the Cosmopolitan. I had thoughts of going over there to try and sit at a poker table next to Anthony Rizzo, but I can't afford to gamble with a millionaire.
I bought my girlfriend a souvenir from this guy....
I got married once in Vegas too.....Best of luck kids!
I'm not sure who the photobombers are? They all seem to be!
She was here too!
And it was all just a 20-minute walk from this!
Rizzo trots home after his second home run of the day.
The rooftop owners should invest in those mountains!
Kids play running bases on the berm.
Ever play a slot machine at a ball game? I did. And won! Free show tickets to magicians and comedians! (After you pay the $10 box office fee.)
Johnny O gets into the baseball spirit by proudly wearing his Cracker Jack prize, but his lack of sleep the night before called for a berm nap...
That's when I met Mary and Billy Pottenburgh and their son Sean. It's a mixed marriage.
Hopefully Mom's fandom will take the upper hand.
Johnny woke up for the last few innings in time to see the fan of the game stealing beer.
Yes. That's a Cubs fan... Now for a little post game rolling down the hill!
Not quite as fun as he remembered it to be. (I found that out a few years ago).
Unfortunately, there was no way to get cheap tickets to these Las Vegas games. $70 for two tickets is a real ripoff for a split squad pre-season game, but everything in Vegas is like that. It's either completely free, or three times what you normally pay.
A word about how I gamble on the cheap. My motto is, "live to play another day". If you like table games, play Craps and Blackjack as cheaply as possible. Never play at more than a $5 table. Your odds are best on these games if you just play it straight. Never do the side bets even though the casino will hate you. If you play slots, never put another $20 in a machine after you lose $20, and if you play the bonus round game, quit and find another machine. You'll never get rich this way, but you'll live to play another day and get free Heinekens in the process!
Johnny and I only had two nights free at the Downtown Grand, so we had to switch hotels halfway through our stay to our old haunt Main Street Station ($72), which is also a micro brewery with cheap and delicious beer (free if you're gambling). Saving money is all about being flexible and moving saved us $150 a night! The only person I've ever met thriftier than me is Johnny. He's the perfect traveling companion!
It was here at Main Street Station that I found this slot machine called Wild Bear.
It's a terrible photo, but I've learned my lesson not to fool around in casinos. That story over beers sometime at Wrigley. But sometimes, I'll put $5 in a machine and either double it or lose it. I decided to employ a little magical thinking and play this "Wild Bear" slot as a euphemism for the Cubs rebuilding process. If I lose it, all our prospects are a bust, If I double it, we win the World Series. And guess what!? After dipping under one dollar, I doubled my money to $10.81! I guess these last few years are the "under a dollar" years, but eventually, we're gonna be champions!
I immediately used the $5 to place a bet on the 2014 Cubs to win the World Series. The odds are 30-1 -- five better than the White Sox. The odds should be higher, of course, but the Law of Averages says that anything will happen that can, (according to Steve Goodman) in "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request," and 106 years means the probability that the Cubs will continue to not win the World Series is unlikely! That's the best news I've heard all spring!
Of course some Kool-Aid drinking bozo like me also ruins the odds with $5 bets like this.....
Playing with the house's money! Then another night of this....
And hanging with the guy we're going to trade Jeff Samardzija to the Blue Jays for....
This guy is actually Swedish and just likes the hat... and then, another glorious day of Spring Training Sunshine!
A Cubs "W"! The Cubs split the two game Vegas set with the Mets and brought my Spring Training record to 3-3. I'll take it. Last year I almost forgot the words to "Go Cubs Go" for not singing it enough.
Plus, at the Sunday Cubs win, an incredibly generous Cubs fan named Ann gave me free tickets to the entire opening series vs. the Phillies!
Cubs fans are the best.
If you're looking for an overpriced tourist attraction in Vegas, right next door to Cashman Field is the Neon Boneyard Park, a collection of old Casino signs. Not worth the now $18 dollar entry fee ($25 at night). But I'm still glad it exists.
Then it was time to do the most important thing you can do to save money when visiting Las Vegas -- leave. Johnny and I had planned on staying an extra night, but decided to save the money, cancelled our Sunday night reservation and after an overpriced Rio buffet of crab legs and prime rib, made the desert journey back to Los Angeles.
Arrived in LA just in time to experience my first earthquake which set the lampshade askew!
Rocked out another gig at Genghis Cohen attended by some of my best friends in the world, and randomly by the guy who wrote and produced Airplane and Naked Gun, David Zucker. He happened to be on a date with my friend and former student Caroline... I'm there three days and I'm already dropping names....
Pro tip: If you're looking to score free drinks as a singer, it's important to ask for them from the stage. I didn't pay for a beer!
Hung out with some friends who were cast mates of mine in the Original Touring Cast of Rent in 1996.
Christian Anderson, Sean Keller, Luther Creek, Danny Rockett
Then it was finally time to head back to Chiberia....
Here's Chicago at 5AM. And here's me waiting in the snow for the No. 78 bus two hours later.
I can't say I'm happy to be home. I'd rather be bothering Al in left field today while soaking up the sun. But soon enough we'll all be back at Wrigley. I know I'm ready! I've warmed up my liver, my casino chops, and my musical traveler skills.
10 days. Three cities. Six ballgames. Two rock gigs. $800.
Well, It's time to rock out another season of Cubs baseball! Who's with me?!