There seem to be an endless number of ‘perks’ in Vegas. When we checked into the hotel, they gave us a full page of restaurant discounts and coupons. The hotel had some nice (read: expensive) places to eat at, but one caught my eye in particular.

“Ten… Jimi… how does Benihana sound for dinner tonight?”

They both shrugged, never having heard of it before.

“What! Seriously?” I exclaimed. “It’s one of those Japanese steakhouses where they cook at your table. This coupon says it’s good for $25 off a steak and lobster dinner.”

Two pairs of eyes lit up at the words “steak and lobster”. Ten called in for reservations immediately, while I continued to read through the page of discounts, looking for something fun to do during the day

“Hey guys—look at this,” I said, passing over the paper and pointing to one of the boxes. It read: TWENTY DOLLARS FREE PLAY. Underneath was a whole bunch of fine print. We looked it over carefully and it sounded pretty legitimate. We followed the instructions and picked up the card downstairs. Sure, they got our email addresses in the process, but we had $20 to play slots with!

None of us had really planned on gambling, so the free-play card made us a little giddy. It reminded me of Monopoly money: it’s not even real, yet it seems so important. We wandered the room, searching for just the right machine to try.

“Sooo… have you guys ever played a slot machine before?” I asked.

Jimi and Ten both shook their heads.

“As in—you don’t know how to use one at all?”

Again with the “No”s.

We officially had no idea what we were doing.

“Okay, well all I know is that I want to play one where you actually have to pull the handle on the side, not just punch a silly button,” I said, laughing. I plopped down in front of a Flaming 7s machine and popped in my card. Suddenly, things started buzzing and lighting up. I felt like a toddler, delighted with a shiny, new toy!

I didn’t know what all the buttons and lines meant, so I punched a few, then gave the handle a yank.

Ding ding ding ding!

Numbers started appearing on the counter below.

“I think I won!” I squealed. Then I paused. “What exactly did I win?”

The guys laughed behind me. Jimi said, “You just won thirty bucks.” He pushed a button and a ticket printed out with the words THIRTY DOLLARS printed across the middle.

“Wait, so is that it? Am I done?”

Jimi shook his head, smiling, “Nope. You’ve still got plenty of credit left on the machine. This money would just turn into more credit, though, if I hadn’t printed it. Just keep playing!”

I pretended to understand what he was telling me and turned back to my sparkly toy. I went on to win nearly $60 without spending a dime.

“I think dinner is on me tonight, boys!” I said, after I exchanged my tickets at the cash machine. “What’s next on the agenda?”

Next was: exploring. We got off the monorail at Caesar’s Palace and wandered through the mall. By mall, I mean unbelievably expensive stores housed beneath a ceiling painted to resemble the sky. With a 20,000 gallon aquarium at the end. Only in Vegas…

We then crossed the street and headed over to Paris. The Eiffel Tower restaurant looked tempting, with its great views of downtown. The menu prices, however, quickly sent us running for the doors.

And so we spent the day, hopping from casino to casino, observing each spectacle along the way. We skipped lunch, both in anticipation of a large dinner and from the shock of some of the prices we observed. By the time we made it back to our hotel and changed for dinner, we were starving.

We entered the dining facility at Benihana, only to be amazed again by the elaborate décor. We were seated around a grill, along with a family with three small children. The food began pouring out of the kitchens immediately. Our chef was quite entertaining, pleasing the little kids with his onion volcanoes and our appetites even more. We tried to savor each bite, but had little time before the next course was dumped sizzling onto our plates.

“Where you seeing the fireworks tonight?” our chef asked the table at large. The family next to us said they were planning on going out to the hotel’s pool deck.

“Oh, very nice. I hoped to have tonight off and go see 3 Doors Down,” he said in response.

Hold up. “3 Doors Down? Like, the band?” I asked aloud.

“Yes, yes, they playing for free!”

Now I was getting excited. For those of you who missed the nineties rock scene, 3 Doors Down was a decent post-grunge band with insanely catchy lyrics and “the kind of melodiously barbed hooks that will grapple your memory like a catchy jingle or a bygone Goo Goo Dolls song” quoth iTunes. “Kryptonite” was a hit single that everybody still hates to love (or is it the reverse?).

Regardless, I was totally down for rocking out with them. We finished off the last few bites of our meal, then got served with a free round of ice cream on the house (again with the Vegas perks). Between our coupons and my winnings, we paid practically nothing for dinner.

We headed off in our car, driving away from the strip. The concert was located in a slightly sketchier part of town. We passed wedding chapel after wedding chapel, each with it’s own cheesy pun of a name. The noise level rose as we neared the venue. We parked and walked to the outdoor mall, where thousands of people were milling about in festive Fourth attire. Overhead stretched a massive, curved screen, on which the faces of the 3 Doors Down band members were plastered.

And just beneath these screens, people were flying.

Okay, not literally flying. That’s one trick Vegas hasn’t quite pulled off yet. But they had managed to erect parallel sets of ziplines that ran all the way down the mall avenue. It was pretty cool. We stayed and watched the band rock out for a while, until we finally got tired of hearing the same song played over and over…

Did I just say that? I meant to say, it was fantastic to see 3 Doors Down live. Even if all of their songs sound the same.

We were able to spot some of the fireworks from our rooms: tiny blooms of light, spouting a hundred feet below our windows. The next morning we grabbed a few more rays by the pool before hitting the road.

It was a trip we knew we wouldn’t forget. But, at least for me, I was ready to get back to the important stuff. Like finding a home. And a job. Vegas is a fun town, but it is also an escape from reality.

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