Saturday, January 17, 2009

Another Visit to Henderson

I went to services again last night at Ner Tamid, the Reform synagogue in Henderson, Nevada. You might try it sometime.

I can't believe how many people they "draw" for services on a Friday night or Saturday morning. It's really incredible. Friday night, for instance, while the place wasn't entirely packed, it was pretty much so. A lot of the people tend to sit in front of the choir, so they're always on the left side, while I sit on the right side. I had a few empty seats near me, but I suspect there were none on the other side.

My theory is that people come for the production. Last night was gospel night, and so they had a guest choir from a nearby Christian church who sang gospel songs for us. They were very good. And Ner Tamid had its own choir plus the choir comprised of fifth graders and below, just visiting. Add to that a band consisting of guitar, bass guitar, piano, and drum, and, well, it's a production.

And leading them all was Cantorial Soloist Philip Goldstein, who has a magnificent voice. He, alone, is worth the price of admission.

There were some rather odd things about the service, like an old Jewish song sung to the tune of "Onward Christian Soldiers," was, well, unusual.

But I think the music and the welcoming vibe of the rabbis make Ner Tamid the place to be on shabbat.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I finished my errands at the two banks, and decided I had time to get a haircut this morning at 11. Elegant Hair & Nails was on my speed dial, so I called them up. She said, "When?" just like that, short. I said, "How about 5 minutes?" She answered solely with, "Come."

She had to unlock the bolt lock to let me in. It was 11 am and there was no one there. Business continues to be slow, I noted. That's one reason why I wanted to come to a local shop.

Not too long, not too short. I think it's just how I like it. (I won't really know until tomorrow.)

I was wondering about why their doors were locked. It could be a rash of robberies, but I think it's more likely due to the BART protests and violence. The shop is about 5 blocks from San Leandro BART.

While she was scissoring my hair, a clean-cut guy came into the shop. He represents a new insurance company and he just wanted to drop off some literature. Interesting. We're not used to hearing "new business in the area."

As I left the shop, I could hear the "click" behind me as she bolted the door.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Looking Forward to Spring Training

I have ordered my tickets for spring training 2009 -- two A's games, one Cubs game, one Dodgers. I've decided to fly this time, having driven 17 hours to get home last time.

George called me while I was sitting down for my airport margarita at McCarron Airport in Las Vegas. He wanted to discuss, yes, the A's. This is the fan who stopped being a fan for 2008 when Billy Beane traded away so many of the decent A's players that the team couldn't bat over .240 for the 2nd half of the season, and couldn't win more than two in a row.

The A's have just now announced that Jason Giambi, age 38 as of today, will be rejoining the team. What was it, seven years ago? when he left the A's for the big money in New York, and trashed the A's as he walked out the door. Some will greet him as a hero when he returns, quietly forgetting the poster boy of the Steroid Era, while others will boo him.

Which one am I? Into which camp do I reside? I have to see how well the old man can hit first.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

More Money from the Planet Moolah

Gotta love them cows. I played my new favorite slot machine again tonight in my last gambling of this trip.

Invasion of the Planet Moolah replaces any three matching figures in a row so you get to try again; they call this new development in slot machine games a "cascading: effect. If you do that more than 3 times, you get to the bonus round of free spins (and you can imagine the permutations as, even in the bonus round, groups of 3 disappear). The best part about it, well, besides the money, is that cows appear as wild; they moo when they connect to score you points (and I moo, too, when that happens...involuntarily). And the cows in the flying saucers above do all the lasering.

Twice in that last session, a session that only lasted 10 minutes as I was trying to get outside to see my last Fremont Experience up above the square, I got a message that read BIG WIN. I had never seen that before. The cows all lined up and each was mooing like crazy (each cow has a different moo). And in a matter of minutes, I won $70 with a $10 input. (This is a penny machine.) So I stopped.

Right before that, also at the Four Queens, I used a $10 matchplay coupon (and promptly lost), but stayed to win $80 above my stake. I then had an ice cream to celebrate.

And the day hadn't started out that auspiciously. I took a cab immediately to the Tropicana, and before breakfast, I played blackjack. The dealer had a difficult time counting, at least it seemed to me, and I had to tell her at one point not to pay me. Another incident occurred which made me want to leave: the guy next to me was upset that he was losing, so he bet half his money on one hand, and lost; I hate to watch things like that. I then moved away, quickly, and decided to go to breakfast at the Garden Cafe. After that, I took a cab to the Las Vegas Hilton, passed by Elvis, who still stands in front (after being moved from the lobby), and played another match coupon at the blackjack table. I promptly lost.

But the other guy I was playing with was quite entertaining. He was playing well, but losing, and kept talking about how we're in this together. I left shortly after he did, thankful I escaped without investing more money into that losing venture.

I was so surprised that the Hilton had $5 tables, and I mentioned that to my newfound friend. He answered, "Well, look around. There's nobody here." And, indeed, he was right.

I went over to the Starfleet Casino, which still exists, but found that The Experience was boarded up and ads placed over the boards where the entrance used to be. So sad. But there's a hard rumor that it will reappear downtown.

And so I went downtown after getting my Southwest boarding pass (one of the real reasons I went to the Hilton, because I knew where to do that there). The cab driver I rode with was also quite entertaining. He told me the city is really suffering. He often gambles with his wife when he cashes his paycheck at one of the smaller casinos. He normally goes to the Eureka casino, a place I've never heard of but apparently is next to the Sahara, to do the check-cashing and gambling, but was met for the first time in 20 years with questions about the check's authenticity and demands to see more I.D. In disgust, he and his wife have moved on. His point was that even the smaller, more family-type casinos are facing hard times and apparently changing in response.

You can, however, borrow money even if you don't have much of your own. I had read in Las Vegas Advisor that Binion's offer to get a free photo with its new million-dollar display is exactly that: free. Just allow half an hour for processing, and you have to be a member of their slot club, which I am. So I got the picture made. As I was standing behind all that money guarded by plexiglass, this disembodied voice rang out from the woman snapping the photo: "You can touch it." So I did, if somewhat gingerly.

I met another cab driver tonight who told me he often went to Sacramento from Las Vegas to do construction jobs. He was pretty high up in the company, but the economy kept forcing reductions. He now drives a cab. Construction has gone from about 500 houses to 50 or so, he said. It's devastating.

Everybody's finding new things to do as old jobs dry up. Case in point was a guy who met me -- on two separate nights, in two separate cab pick-up places downtown. He greets you, washes the handle of the cab and a window of two, opens the door for you, and hopes for a tip. I tipped him both nights. Handsomely.

I think enterprise like that should be rewarded.

Las Vegas: Always an Adventure

I've had many adventures in Las Vegas over the last 40 years. Gambling for the first time when I was 20 (blackjack). Sitting next to Liza Minelli in the Frontier showroom. Watching Elvis for the first and only time at the Hilton (what we called the "International" in those days, and where I saw Barry Manilow later). Watching my mom gamble for her last time at Bally's, and smiling as she tried to take her bucket of quarters through the airport x-ray (she made it). Almost dying twice on a road trip to Vegas with my brother. And on the same trip, carrying his snub-nose .38 in my purse. Of course, there was the time a man died at the table next to us at the Binion's coffee shop. And on many occasions, I attended Star Trek conventions with friends and family.

This trip will add to those adventures, although not in such a dramatic way.

I can only take about 3 days of Vegas on my own, you know, where the only meaningful conversations happen with the dealer. Yesterday as I was looking at my phone again during the lengthy deal, the dealer asked me, "Talking to your boyfriend?" No, I answered. Checking to see if any of my sons has an emergency. And that was the truth. As it turned out, one of them had sent me essays to check, and of course the deadline was the next day. I was able to get to that on email.

I was determined this time around to do two things: (1) Play more blackjack and craps, as I keep losing money on slot machines, and (2) use some of the tickets in the Las Vegas Advisor ticket book. I just got the book before I left. So far this trip, I've used $14 of it. One for half off on a buffet at the Fremont, and the other in table matchplay at the Plaza.

The Plaza story is kind of interesting. I had to apply for the player's card there first, as I have never played there. I stayed there once at the hotel portion, and swore I'd never go back. The walk from the front desk to the hotel elevators is a long one, and I had to make it twice that first day, as the desk had given me the key to a room already taken. I hope I didn't disturb the large man sleeping in the bed as I entered.

But, because I was downtown and because the Plaza had a nice matchplay of $10, I was determined to go there and use it. I showed the dealer the book and asked if I could play it. He looked confused but he nodded his head, so I detached the coupon from the book and placed it under my $10 in chips. I got a push that first time, so we tried it again. I got a blackjack the second time. However, he did two things wrong: he paid me too much, and he left the coupon where it was instead of removing it. I wasn't sure what had just happened. The payoff is supposed to be 3 to 2, but the coupon threw me off. I finally realized what the payoff should've been about 3 plays later (I removed the coupon immediately), and instead of drawing anyone's attention to it like I had done earlier in the day when the dealer overpaid me -- I figured nobody would know what I was talking about several plays later -- I decided to leave the extra $20 as a tip for the dealers.

I did that. Actually, looking back on it, I'm still confused. I can't exactly remember what I was paid for that hand. I must've been tired -- it was 9 o'clock at night -- which should've given me a hint I should've gone back to the hotel. But I didn't.

I instead played a little longer at another hotel, Binion's. I had enjoyed great success there earlier that day at blackjack. Instead, the dealer took me for all I was worth. I managed to gain half of it back when I decided to hang it up. I found the line of taxis back at the Plaza, and went back to the Mirage.

I enjoyed seeing the one Fremont Experience downtown that I experienced. Oh, and another half of one. The first one was about motorcycles, and the last one about American Pie, but when it's 30 degrees out there, and I'm just in a light sweater, nothing is that much fun.

The gambling is so much fun downtown, though, that I think I'll go back today after I go to the Hilton for a few hours. Downtown casinos have the slot machines I like, and the low-limit blackjack and craps I like.

I did a brief stint at craps yesterday, again at Binion's. 10 minutes later I was $60 lighter, and so I escaped. I love craps -- I could feel my adrenalin flowing -- but it scares me. It has the ability to bankrupt me. I play the line bet minimum, always take odds behind the line, and then I place bets. One number can destroy all that.

I'm staying at the Mirage because they offered me a deal I've never seen before. A four-star hotel for a two-star price. I found a few casino games I like. But the minimums for blackjack are slightly higher. And the hotel is so large I get lost. I may in the future just stay downtown and have done with it.

The highlight of my day yesterday was when I got three blackjacks in a row. I couldn't believe it! A little later, I got two in a row. My only regret is that I didn't bet enough. I'm a true believer in the theory that you only win in blackjack if you play right (meaning, you hit when you should) and find ways of increasing your bet from time to time.

I had a lot of fun yesterday. I may not use a lot of those coupons along the way, I'm discovering, but I really enjoy the downtown area more than the strip. Everything is right there. This may just be one more sign I'm getting old.