Day 1 – 4 December 2011 – 2600 hrs.

My journey began by venturing into the Humphrey terminal. Actually, calling it a terminal is a light misnomer, as it is more akin to an oversized sardine can with jetwalks jutting from it. My airline of choice was Sun Country. With half of the plane empty, I was able to stretch out across an entire row, noshing on a foil-wrapped hot dog whilst attempting to entertain myself with The Hangover Part 2.

The flight landed on time and I headed to the shuttle pickup.

“There will be an hour wait.”

“Excuse me?”

Yes, in all of my manic pre-planning, I had neglected to take into account that Las Vegas Boulevard – aka the strip – was shut down due to a marathon. Yes, a marathon going down one of the most heavily trafficked roads, a stretch better known for debauchery than physical fitness, in North America at 6 P.M. Only in Vegas.

I decided to take my chances on a taxi. I got through the line very quickly and was ushered into a taxi driver by a man who didn't let his lack of teeth deter his spirit. I thought to myself that this was a good sign, until:

“Hey buddy, get in the front seat.”

The theme from Deliverance began playing in my head. I envisioned myself on an episode of Locked Up Abroad fighting back tears as I lamented that I would have never been in this mess if I had just waited for that shuttle.

I never found out why the cabbie had me sit in the front seat. But I would like to think that it was because he needed to offset the weight differential. Because, you see, this was no ordinary cabbie. This was Super Cabbie.

In between clenching myself in order to avoid voiding my bowels as my driver went between cars with nary a few inches to spare, bringing back memories of playing Pole Position after ingesting too much Mountain Dew, Super Cabbie mentioned that he once wanted to become a NASCAR driver.

Whatever the inspiration, in about fifteen minutes, I was at the back of the Flamingo. I thought I had told Super Cabbie I was going to Imperial Palace, but at this point, I was willing to pretty much do whatever it took to get out of that car. I tipped Super Cabbie a twenty and wished him godspeed.

I made my up towards Las Vegas Boulevard, and yes, indeed, there was a marathon going on. Combined with the sea of cowboy hats crowding the streets for the National Rodeo Finals, I began to wonder if maybe I shouldn't have taken that extra Claritin with vodka chaser today.

Regretting the fact that I didn't pack a cattle prod with my carry on, I adapted my mosh pit techniques learned via Slayer concerts and pushed my way through the doughy mass of humanity towards the beacon of Imperial Palace.

Yes, Imperial Palace is the Super 8 (or is it Motel 6?) of strip hotels, but as I was a solo traveler who was prone to long stretches of inebriation, it fit my purposes just fine. A bed, a toilet, a shower, and a crappy old tube TV. Oh yeah, and a faint stink of sweat, stale beer, and desperation in the hallways. That'll do, IP, that'll do.

Despite only having only one beleaguered yet still sassy lady named Coco working the check-in, everything went fast and smoothly, and soon, after hitting the gift shop for an overpriced bottle of Jack Daniels, I was on my way to prestigious Tower 5, so named because they are the ones with the “good” elevators. And by “good”, I mean you can actually get to your floor within ten minutes. Not that they were clean or anything. There was a glass in the corner of one of the elevators that I think was there my entire trip.

Get to my humble obode for the next four and a half days. No obvious bloodstains. Good. I turn on the TV to Sunday Night Football and pop the Jack in an attempt to muffle the icepicks in my brain that Cris Collinsworth generates. Messages are sent out to friends in town, and then it's off to get supplies (A.K.A. sweet sweet alcohol) for my room.

And where else but the Stage Door? Only a couple of blocks from the strip, but a world away, this is a dive bar with a liquor store attached, which in my mind, is like heaven. The clientele is refreshingly free of any Ed Hardy or Buddy Holly glasses sense of pretense, mostly comprised of locals who work in the area, or, perhaps more accurately, working on their next morning's excuse to not work in the area.

After a couple of stiff Jack and Cokes and rebuking the advances of a woman of the night that must have been a real dimepiece in Sinatra's time, it was time to venture to the back to obtain a sixer of Icehouse tallboys along with a bottle of Jagermeister. My liver was screaming that it could already feel the hangover, but dammit, I'm in Vegas, and health be damned.

Back to the room to deposit the treasure along with a couple of buckets of ice in the bathroom sink (never let it be known that my six and a half years of college did not go to waste) and then off to sign up for my Total Rewards card, which I had never gotten in my seven previous trips to Vegas.

The shiny five dollar slot voucher I got for CET having all of my personal information, save for a blood and urine sample, was quickly lost in a Dark Knight machine, but at least I got a free drink for my troubles. The cocktail waitresses at the IP are among the best on the strip and a major reason why I keep coming back. I got my beer – had to start switching down at this point, lest I become featured on the new season of Cops – within a few minutes.

At this point, with nothing planned for the rest of the evening, a buzz percolating and an untainted bankroll burning a hole not just in my wallet, but my very psyche, the gambling bug bit, and it bit hard. But first I needed a base coat, so I headed over to Ming's Table in Harrah's.

I had some barbecue fried pork rice with a cold sake on the side. The sake was good, the rice wasn't. But the booze had already created a virtual tapeworm in my stomach, so I wolfed down the whole thing anyway.

With a gut full of rice that was quickly turning into a brick, as I sat at the Alien slot machine, I had a rare moment of clarity on this trip and ordered a 7&7. One of the separate 7's, either the booze or ginger ale, quelled my stomach enough that I was able to saunter my way over to Bally's.

There was still a few stragglers “running” the marathon. Even though these brave souls were marching forth at a Matlockesque pace, there was still a band, propelled by their dreams of becoming the next Nickelback, in front of Caesar's rocking out at Spinal Tap 11 volume to serenade them.

The hypnotic lights and stairs of the walkway to Bally's, or perhaps the multitude of drinks I had already, took their hold of me, as I took the long trip to the casino.

Seeing the hook of the massive Dark Knight machine would be enough to keep myself planted the rest of the night.

Day 2 / Day 3 / Day 4 / Day 5

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