Each and every week, I receive a text-message inviting me to play in a local poker tournament. The weekly tourney is $120 buy-in H.O.R.S.E. — hosted at the MGM Grand.
My distaste for the MGM Grand and everything associated with the monstrosity is widely-known and well-documented. It’s been the subject of columns in both newspapers — the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Review-Journal. I won’t reopen those wounds and get into details now (see a future blog for that). I only say that I was fully prepared to move on emotionally and give this giant money-sucking leech another chance when I made my first entrance into the MGM Grand in four years.
And so, last Tuesday night — prompted by an invite from poker pro Karina Jett, the extraordinary hostess at the MGM Grand (probably the only wise executive decision they’ve ever made here was to hire Jett) — I decided to release those bitter bygones and set foot inside a casino that still owes me thousands of dollars.
At 6:30 pm, I pulled into the MGM Grand parking lot. Not much as changed in this regard since my last visit. One still must maneuver a giant maze of lanes and floors and then walk a mile to finally get to the building entrance. Indeed, it takes me perhaps five minutes inside what used to be the world’s largest hotel to instantly realize that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING has changed since I wrote the following review (which was posted at a gambling website back in 2002).
It should be noted that everything in the following review is a reflection of my experience there ten years ago. But, it’s just as relevant now based on Tuesday night’s visit. One update: The MGM Grand now has a poker room, which has moved again. For several years, it was located beneath a noisy nightclub. The poker room has since been moved off to the side, which I will add is nothing to brag about.
Moreover, all of the events relating to my fallout at the MGM Grand in 2005 occurred well after this review was written. So anyone who thinks I’m biased should be aware this review was originally written three years prior.
Writer’s Note: The Flame Steakhouse closed its doors for the final time in 2014. The replacement restaurant at the El Cortez is not recommended.
Finding a delicious “trout almondine” is next to impossible outside of New Orleans.
Or — so I thought.
Then, I dined at The Flame Steakhouse which is the gourmet restaurant inside the time-warped El Cortez Casino in downtown Las Vegas. I ordered and then devoured a Creole delicacy that was every bit as tasty as the world-class fare served at Antione’s, Galatoire’s, or Arnaud’s in the famous French Quarter.
In a city that has become dominated by flash-in-the-pan “celebrity” chefs and ridiculously-overpriced Haute cuisine, it’s refreshing to a experience throwback to a time and place when all that really mattered was great tasting food served at a reasonable cost in a comfortable atmosphere with reliable service. Sadly, those fundamentals are lost in what has become a sea of snooty waiters and obscene South Strip prices, which so often meet their well deserved demise.
Perhaps that’s what makes The Flame Steakhouse so enduring and consistent. Very little changes. It’s good – all the time. And since that first visit many years ago, I’ve dined here perhaps 50 to 60 times – always leaving both satisfied and with the feeling I got a bargain.
If you’re one of the fucking idiots who consistently drives in the RIGHT-HAND LANE….if you are one of the obnoxious jackasses oblivious to those who casually stroll along on sidewalks making our daily walks and runs….if you selfishly barrel through busy intersections like the ass-joker that you are….I’m issuing you a full-fledged warning.
From this moment forward, I will no longer be responsible for my actions or what happens to your vehicle. Prepare to meet my middle finger. Prepare to hear the blasting of my horn. Prepare for my flashing headlights.
I am making it a mission to improve traffic flow. I’m making it a mission to save both time and energy. I’m making it a mission to reduce needless vehicle emissions. I hereby declare that the RIGHT-HAND LANE is only for entering/exiting the roadway and for making right turns. Nothing else.
And now let me explain why this is such an outrage.
I’ve taken up running the last several months. In virtually every city I’ve visited since I began my training program, I observed a consistent pattern of unmistakable rudeness. Often when running along a sidewalk, perhaps no more than a few feet from the right-hand traffic lane, these brain-dead jokers completely oblivious to common courtesy roar past me like out-of-control freight trains. These vehicles race by in a mindless stupor, blinded to any manifestation of humanity.
Just when I was convinced Las Vegas had pretty much become like everywhere else, I was reminded once again that this city is a very unique place.
Yesterday, I renewed my car registration. In Nevada, all vehicles must be smog checked once per year. This means, you drive your car to local station where they run a series of diagnostic tests. Sort of like Medicare, only it’s your car that gets a government-mandated check up, instead of you.
The cars are hooked up to a machine with a bunch of wires and switches and tested for emissions. What this really means is — the state and the auto merchants get to shake you down for $20 a pop, per car, each and every year.
On the west side of Las Vegas, I pulled into what’s called a “smog station.” Inside a small kiosk was a man who looked pretty much like you would imagine when I say the words “auto mechanic.”
“Need a smog check, today?” the man barked out as rolled down my window.
“Absolutely,” I replied.
As I passed my car keys over to the auto technician (that’s what they’re called now – “auto technicians”) I couldn’t help but notice a white sign plastered above the entrance.
Boulevards normally jammed with traffic were less so and moved more freely. It was a day of leisure. People were out and about.
The park was busier than the day before. Children ran in circles. There was laughter. Music played.
And, my eighth run began alongside the concrete aqueduct.
Just as the day before, I ran about a mile, and then veered off the right. I scaled the first wall effortlessly and ran a considerable distance before coming upon the same cinder block barricade I remembered from the previous day.
I had arrived at the blue tent.
But this time, the tent had an occupant. A small-framed man, perhaps 30 or so, sat upright on what appeared to be a sleeping bag. I did not want to startle or disturb the man. So, I quietly made my way over the wall and began to proceed down the path to continue my run.
Suddenly, one of the dogs started barking. And the other dogs too, joined in unison. The canine alarm bells had gone off.
I could not see the man’s face clearly. But, he must have been fearful. After all, few passersby run along the aqueduct and certainly no one scales over two barricades – on a weekend, no less – to invade the solitude this man had etched for himself in what was a gigantic foreign metropolis.
Alerted by the barking mutts, the man quickly rose to his feet when he saw me. He appeared startled, and it was easy to understand why this was so.
Seeing a invader passing along the aqueduct, in a place off-limits to pedestrian traffic, had to be a terrifying prospect for this frightened man resting in solace, who was clearly Hispanic, probably Mexican — and almost certainly an illegal alien.
That’s right — an illegal alien. Chew on those words for a moment.
Yet, it’s the story of so many who live amongst us – hidden away within the crevices of all towns and cities, invisible to the contemporary consciousness.
Los Angeles’ arteries are not highways — but rather its aqueducts. They are a meandering maze of concrete vessels bringing life to millions. Mostly unseen and largely ignored, they lie burrowed amid a gigantic quilt of industrial parks and busy freeways choked with traffic and frustration, channeling clear water from the snow-packed High Sierras down to valleys, and ultimately to our sinks, bathtubs, toilets, garden hoses, swimming pools, and restaurants.
There is one man the who calls the aqueduct his “home.”
This is the story of how I came to stumble upon that man and how I became aware of the numerous challenges he faces each day. It is the story of an unintended series of personal events which reminds us that compassion and generosity are not measured by volume of deeds but rather by the simplest acts of human kindness.