Our road trip to Vegas takes five hours and change. Once we got past San Bernardino and well into the desert I announced it was safe to drink and drive and ride. Therefore, we pulled over and had some cocktails. And smokes. Then we hit the road again. We stayed on Interstate 15. It’s a straight shot into Vegas. Lots of desert. Not much traffic as well, even though it was a Friday. For once, I had planned ahead and made a reservation at the Plaza Hotel and Casino, downtown: Glitter Gulch. I never much cared for ‘The Strip’ during my visits to Vegas, but as this was Shonnie’s first trip there, I promised me I would set aside some time to show her the Glitter-That-Was-Not-Glitter-Gulch.
“Are we there yet?” she asked, rather mockingly about an hour out of San Bernardino.
“You need to pee again?” I shot back over strains of Jimmy Buffett and wind coming from my half-open window.
“Yeah. Matter of fact, I do.”
“Wimmen!” I said, as I pulled off onto the breakdown lane.
“I ain’t gonna pee here!” She protested.
“Look Darlin’, See those big ol’ rocks over there? You can go pee behind one of those. Nobody will see you.”
“Snakes,” she said.
“Snakes. I don’t like snakes.”
“Okay, I will come with you. Just let me git my M60 outta the trunk.”
Ignoring my piercing wit, she said, “I won’t be able to piss if you’re watching me.”
“You’d prefer the rattlers watch instead?”
“Okay, but you turn your head at the last minute.”
“I never figured you for a prude Honey.”
“Fuck you. Les go. I gotta go.”
And off we went. There were no snakes that day, so mission accomplished; no apparent casualties, except for maybe some ants who could not scurry away fast enough.
Back on the road. The rest of the trip was pretty much uneventful. We arrived to Vegas about six in the evening. As we drove along The Strip I pointed out all the hotels / casinos which had been graced by my patronage (and my money) during past trips. She was impressed and I could see her eyes lighting up. Shame it was still daylight and she could not see the glory of the Neon City that is Las Vegas. Well, time enough for that later, I mused.
We finally arrived at the very end of Fremont Street and checked in to my old Nemesis: The Union Plaza. I have always had a love/hate relationship with The Plaza, but like a bad marriage, I just could never seem to break it off.
We found the way to our room, which for me was mediocre (I have been around the world, remember? And spent time in some fine, really fine hotels), but to Shonnie, who was not so much a world traveler—more of a life traveler—the room was amazing. She immediately did a thorough inventory of all the ‘accoutrements’ in the room.
“Hey Lance!” she exclaimed. “Come look at this shit! There are little tiny soap bars in the bathroom. And little tiny shampoo bottles. And some paper thingy on the toilet. How I’m supposed to pee with that paper there? And look at this!” she said, walking out of the head and back into the room, “There’s a coffee pot and Coffee! And Look at this here! A remote control for the TV!”
*heavy sigh* from me. “Shonnie, welcome to the First World.”
“Smart ass! Hey! Just look at that bed! Is that one of them water-beds?”
“I seriously do not think so. This ain’t Caesar’s Palace, Hun. We are in the part of Vegas known as the home of ‘The Sawdust Joints’.”
“Oh… Well, I like it.”
She walked over to the little desk beside the TV and picked up the room service menu. “This is my idea of Heaven”, she said.
“We can have room service! I’ve never had room service. What should I order? I’m hungry.”
“Honey, order anything you want.”
“No. I’ll tell you what I want and you order it. I don’t wanna talk to some stranger on the phone about food.”
“Very well,” I said. “Go ahead. Take your time. Then I will order us up some supper. Wanna drink while you ‘peruse’ the menu?”
“While I what?”
“Decide what you want to eat.”
“Yeah… reach me a beer and my cigs while I study this. So many choices!”
She was enjoying her stay so far. And I was loving her enjoying.
“Have you decided what you want for supper?” I asked after a bit.
“Yeah, but I caint make out what some of this stuff is, so I am shopping ‘price’”
“Baby, you don’t havta shop price. I have money. Order what you want.”
“No, I mean I am shopping price. Gonna order the most expensive thing on this menu and see what I get.”
Good Gawd! I am loving this woman! “You go right ahead Darlin’.”
She had picked out, what she called, a baby steak, based upon the photo in the menu (Filet mignon) and then said, “I love the picture of that steak but it looks kinda small. Can you add some taters or something with it?”
“Don’t worry Honey, I will take care of it. I am gonna go for ice first, then I will order.”
“The Seven Eleven is way far from here,” she protested. “Don’t you leave me alone.”
“You really are country, ain’t ya? And you called me ‘City Boy’. Baby, the ice is just down the hall. Be right back.”
Over her protestations, I went and fetched a bucket of ice. When I returned, she announced she wanted a shower:
“I’m gonna freshen up. You make sure that room service guy don’t come into my bathroom while I’m in there.”
“Shonnie, I will gallantly stand my post just outside your door. No worry.”
“Okay then. See ya in a bit.” And she disappeared into the bathroom.
The food arrived while she was still in the head, showering. I tipped the dude and laid out our supper table. Opened a bottle of red wine I had tacked onto the order along with my ‘steak’, a semi rare cheeseburger (I am a simple man: simple tastes). Anyhow, presentation is everything. I had also requested a single red rose for ornament and I placed that ‘just so’ too on the table.
She yelled at me from behind the bathroom door: “Is he gone?”
“Yes Babe. He is. Come on out.”
She opened the door, enveloped in a cloud of steam, like something out of film noir, wearing a hotel white cotton bath robe, and waltzed into the bedroom. I was impressed. She looked stunning and I felt one more brick in my emotional wall crumble.
“Let’s eat! I’m starving!” she announced gruffly in that coarse gravelly voice I had grown to love so well.
We had our meal to the strains of ‘Joni Mitchell’ singing from Hejira on my brought boom box. Neither one of us had any desire to watch TV, as we were too much into music. The TV with the remote was just a novelty for her; she had no desire to actually watch it. Nor did I.
After our meal, she asked me, “So, you gonna show me about this Fool’s Paradise Town of yours or what?”
“In due time. In due time. Now take off that robe and lie back and relax. I have something I want to do to you first. Then I am gonna teach you how to ‘count’ down the deck in Blackjack.”
We freshened up, got dressed, and headed down to the Casino floor. Generally I don’t gamble in The Plaza, but this night I was freshly feeling full of myself and wanted to capitalize on that feeling before the fresh wore off.
Allow me to explain something: I do not believe in Santa, The Easter Bunny, Karma, Fate, Oklahoma, or God. But I do believe in Dama Fortuna, and I could sense her radiance shining down upon me that night.
The casino was all flashing lights, laughter, musical sounds from the slot-machines—basically your typical Las Vegas Scene.
I led Shonnie over to a bank of ‘dollar slots’, pulling out a crisp one dollar bill, I fed it into the machine. “Pull the lever and stand by,” I said to her.
“I’ve never gambled before,” she said.
“Honey, if my instincts are right, this ain’t gambling. Go ahead. It’s my dollar anyhow, so you really ain’t gambling. Per se.” “Pear who? Okay,” she said, “Here goes nothing,” while pulling the Bandit’s one arm.”
“I certainly hope not,” I said, as we watched the cylinders spin.
Double bar. Double Bar. Double Bar! Casino silver dollars poured into the tray, making that oh so magical sound of metal raining on metal. One hundred bucks! A propitious beginning!
“Oh My Fucking God!” she screamed.
“Baby, God had nothing to do with it. Thank Dame Fortuna, if you feel compelled to thank someone.”
“Wow! Look at all that shiny money!”
“It’s yours. Take that bucket and fill it up.”
“Should we go again?” She asked breathlessly.
“Absolutely not,” I said. “Come on. I’m gonna show you the real games.”
“You’re the Boss,” she giggled.
I leaned very close to her and pulling at my collar, breathed into her ear, “Speak into the microphone My Dear.”
“Lance, you’re crazy!”
“Yeah. C’mon.” I led her to a craps table.
“Oh! This looks complicated,” she said.
“Well, yeah. It is and it isn’t. Don’t worry. I will walk you through it. One question though, do you throw a baseball like a girl?”
“Ok then. We should be fine.”
Craps is the best game known to man. I love the high-energy. The camaraderie. The cacophony. The excitement. The electricity. The laughter. The tears. The suspense as the galloping dominoes bounce down the table.
And last but certainly not least, the ability to win (and sometimes lose) large amounts of money in a very short time. And yes, I am what some might call, a ‘Dice Degenerate’. Started when I was hustling crap games in Junior high. In the hall ways between classes. Only got busted once. Proud of my record.
Shonnie and I shouldered our way in at one of the far ends of the table.
We sandwiched ourselves between a middle-aged, gray-haired man (on our left) in a business suit (I immediately pegged him as a ‘Corporation Man’ on Convention) grasping what looked like a scotch and water and there was a cigar in a tiny ashtray set on the rail in front of him.
On the right side of us, a ‘normal’ looking guy, about thirty something, sporting a too loud red t-shirt and a gimme cap. Baseball.
I forget the team. Normal Guy had control of the dice, so that meant once his roll ended it would be Shonnie’s turn to be the shooter.
The table was just about at ‘capacity’. I glanced around, looking at the contestants. You see, in Craps the idea is to find the table with the highest energy level.
You want the most up-beat, loudest players: Players who are having fun. Sad to say, but one can never (in my experience) win any money at an empty table or one with an atmosphere of doom, which does sometimes come rolling in.
Savvy crap shooters recognize the early warning signs of ‘The Atmosphere of Doom’ and fly away like scalded rabbits just before, or as it descends. This table was on the upswing and I intended to make quick work of it before the worm turned. (The worm always turns, but sometimes thankfully, it takes some long turning time.)
Looking down the side of the table, opposite the ‘Boss’ and the dealers and the stick men and all, I studied the players.
There was a young couple to the right of ‘Normal Guy’. Right out of “Honey Moon Ville,” I guessed. Next to them stood a Middle-Eastern type wearing a white starched shirt and lots of bling. Next to him, a dude with a crew cut, tight shirt, bulging biceps, who may have been suffering from Roid Rage, given his overly passionate ramblings at the dice as they bounced down the lane.
At the far end of the table there was a young bleach-blond hanging onto the arm of another elderly well-dressed business man. (‘A man and his Hooker’, I ungraciously thought). Next to them a diminutive oriental man.
I was thinking ‘China’, but could not be certain.
I had a wonderful experience once at a craps table at The Golden Nugget following the streak of another China Man. Won almost two grand while he was in control of the dice. You see, craps players are infamously superstitious. And I was certainly no different.
There were several other players mixed in and even some standing behind, perhaps waiting for some space to open up. I was happy with the crowd and after the present ‘roll’ had ended (wins all around) I pulled out four Benjamins and put them on the table in front of one of the dealers.
“Give me two hundred green ($25), and two hundred red ($5),” I announced. The dealer spread out my four bills so ‘The Eye in the Sky’ could get a look. He then stacked my chips and slid them toward me.
“Good luck Sir,” he said, as I split the chips (‘Checks’ in the Vegas’ vernacular.)
With all the bets paid, Normal Guy was ready to go at it again. I instructed Shonnie to take a red chip and place it in front of her on the “Pass” line (If you don’t know how Craps works, you may be at some loss here—I will try to make it as easy to understand as possible.)
I placed a red chip in front of me on the Pass line as well. All bets placed, Normal Guy tossed the dice toward the far end of the table. He rolled a four. (Meaning he had to roll another four before he rolled a seven, thus crapping out.)
“Put two red chips behind your bet,” I told Shonnie.
“We’re taking the odds,” I said.
“I don’t understand.”
“Just do it. Smartly.”
She stacked up the chips behind her original bet and I did the same.
On a hunch, I tossed a red chip onto the middle of the table and said,
“Hard Four!” (Betting that the shooter will make his ‘four’—called his ‘point’, but that he will do it ‘the hard way,’ i.e. two deuces and not an ace and a three.
This is really a sucker bet, but I had Dama Fortuna in my corner. The bet pays ten for one, which if won, would net me $45 dollars, plus of course our pass line bets with the odd’s bets behind them.)
Normal guy tosses… wait for it… Double Deuces! Pandemonium from the players. Everybody wins!
“How did you know to do that?” Shonnie asks, as some decent stacks of red chips came our way.
I put my hand on her neck, pull her ear to me and say, “Stick close Baby. Gonna be a bumpy night.”
Winners paid, Shonnie and I put another two red chips on the pass line. Normal guy rolls an eight. We back up our bets with two each red chips. Normal guy then rolls a seven. Aw Shit! Crapped out! No worries. We are still way ‘ahead’.
Now the dice pass to Shonnie. I can see she has stage fright. One of the dealers sees this too.
“Don’t worry Little Lady! Newbies are always lucky!” He says.
The ‘table’ agrees and I see chips of all colors dropping to the ‘Pass Line’.
Shonnie and I both drop one each green chip onto the Pass Line. Yes. I was confident. All bets now placed, I watch as she picks up the dice. Picked them up as one might imagine someone picking up a rotten banana, or a dead rat.
“They won’t bite,” I assured her. Just toss them at the end of the table. Oh and shake ‘em a little. But you can only use one hand when tossing them.”
“One hand?” she protested. “I always throw a baseball with both hands.”
“Hun, this ain’t a league of your own. Use one hand or they will frown and be perverse.”
“Okay,” she said. Then after shaking the dice a bit, she wound up… and threw! Right over the heads of the players at the far end of the table on off into space.
Collective groan from the table. In craps, the absolute worst thing one can do is miss the fucking table. It is always bad Juju.
Ninety-Nine times out of a hundred, the next roll will produce a crap out. In Shonnie’s case, the anticipated next roll would be snake-eyes, Box cars, or ace-deuce.
I watched as most of the table players pulled chips back from their original bets. Not me. As someone went searching for the errant dice, I told Shonnie to put two more green chips on her pass line.
I did the same. We now had one hundred-fifty-dollars bet, even though I was not certain she would find green felt upon her second try.
She was offered two more dice by the dealer (stick man, just another word for him). I whispered in her ear, “Just relax Honey. Use a little less passion and a little more finesse this time. You’ll do great.”
She shook the dice, wound up, and pitched ‘em down the lane. When they came to rest: Natural Eleven! Winner!
Well… now! Suddenly the table went nuts! Large bets were placed all around (after some applause).
Shonnie kept ‘control’ of the dice for the next fifteen minutes: an eon in ‘Craps’ Time. We won almost a grand, (thanks to my recklessly wild betting and the favor of Dame Fortuna. And of course to Shonnie’s curve ball.)
When she finally crapped out, there was more applause. Everyone had ‘gotten well’ with her streak. And there are no more appreciative gamblers than craps’ shooters when it comes to situations like this.
“Color us up,” I said to the dealer as I pushed our chips toward him.
“But Sir,” He protested, “You’re up. Aren’t you gonna shoot?”
“Nope. We’re done here, but thanks.”
Shonnie and I gathered our (now mostly black–$100 chips—and I led her away)
“What now!” She demanded.
“Lance. You’re nuts! I have never had this much fun! I love you!”
So about six in the evening we walk on down to the El Cortez. Shonnie goes in and I hang back a few; Smoke a Marlboro on the street and head on in. Making my way through the slot machine triple canopy jungle I head to the back, the bar, and the blackjack tables while looking for Shonnie. I spot her seated all alone at a two dollar minimum table decently close to the bar. She was next to ‘Third Base’, empty chair to her left, and five empty seats to her right, just as I had instructed her. “Good Girl,” I thought, “Now, let’s see what you can do.”
As I sat at the bar, lit a cigarette, and ordered a gin and tonic, I watched as Shonnie placed a two-dollar bet. Glancing about the casino, I saw it was a bit slow. A few of the Blackjack tables were completely devoid of players, but it was yet early.
This would certainly soon change. I hoped we would be out long before the crowds came. Shonnie had learned the basic count pretty fast, but I did not think she would be able to sustain if there were a table full of other players and thus many more cards to count. If she could pull it off with just her and the dealer, well that was good enough. We had already made a good score with the Craps game the night before and I really wasn’t looking to get rich. I just wanted to (truthfully) impress her with my ‘Gangsta’ ways. Prove a point, as it were.
She was playing a double-deck game (again per my instruction), and I noted that the dealer dealt deep into the decks (a very good thing). Between reshuffles, I could see Shonnie chatting it up just a little with the dealer, a diminutive ‘Ornamental’ Girl: Pretty much becoming the ‘Norm’ in Vegas at that time. Chinese or Korean, best guess.
I was on my second gin and tonic and my fifth Marlboro when some schmuck waltzed over and sat down to Shonnie’s left. Proper Third Base. He looked about fortyish and was wearing a fake cowboy hat, ruffled shirt, à la George Strait, and a stupid face. He began chatting her up. Now, I had not planned on this, but I did realize a good-looker such as Shonnie, sitting all alone at a BJ table, would be bound to draw some flies. I only hoped this asshole did not distract her too much from her count. We had practiced ‘distractions’ in the hotel room. As I played dealer and dealt way too fast, I would ask her questions and play with the remote on the TV. She did just fine. (She is smart, this one.)
Shonnie played through four reshuffles and was winning. I even saw her double-down a few times and in fact she was increasing her bets. ‘What the fuck?!’ I’m thinking. ‘How long does it take a double-deck to go hot?’
‘George’ remained and was beginning to piss me off. Obviously he was distracting her from her count. I ordered up another gin and tonic, lit a cigarette and stewed some. My drink arrived just as I saw Shonnie pull a cig out of her pack, hold it in her left hand and waited for George-The-Sycophant to light it.
I gathered my drink and my pack of Marlboros and sauntered over to the table. Sat down at first base, threw out (drunkenly, for show), a few hundred dollars. The dealer arranged them on the table for ‘The Eye in the Sky’, and said, “Changing six hundred.” She then passed me some big stacks of red and some green chips. I noted that Shonnie had placed two red chips immediately to the right of her stack. If she was spot on, this meant the count had gone to ‘plus ten!’ I had coached her to constantly shuffle her chips, as if she were nervous or bored, so that this act would not draw any attention.
“No Darlin’, gimme a few black,” I said to the dealer, pushing away the red chips. She took them back and pushed out three black chips to go with the twelve green. I placed two bets (two hands—one can play multiple hands if the table is basically empty) of one hundred dollars each. Shonnie dropped a green chip (I had told her nothing fancy dammit!) George dropped a red and seemed more interested in Shonnie than his game and whispered something in her ear.
All bets placed, ‘Ornamental Dealer Girl’ began to deal. (I estimated that only one-third of the two decks had been dealt, so this bode well for me. A plus ten count! Outrageous!) I caught a pair of eights on my first hand and a hard eighteen on my second. Shonnie caught a natural blackjack and sent me a sideways glance. George caught a dead man’s hand: a thirteen. The dealer had her hole card, but with a five showing. Surely she would bust on that weak ass shit. She would have to take a hit, no matter what and with the decks rich in face cards, she just had to bust.
Of course I split my eights. Caught a three on the first eight and doubled down (now two hundred on that hand) Caught a jack! Twenty one! Caught a deuce on the second eight, doubled down again. Caught a king! Twenty on that hand. Another two hundred. I am now five hundred into this round. I stood pat on my other hand, the eighteen. Shonnie had already been paid for her natural blackjack, so it was up to George. He hit his thirteen! (A rookie move: He should have stood on his thirteen against a dealer showing a five up card—idiot) He caught another face and busted. A face card meant for ‘Miss Ornamental’. Again: Idiot! But it all worked out…
The dealer flipped her hole card, revealing a ten, making her a fifteen. She hit the fifteen (as required) and caught a nine and busted.
The deck was still hot (plus to the plus) so I played another hand and won three hundred. Shonnie won another twenty-five. George lost another five. The dealer started to reshuffle. I was done here.
I pushed all my chips out in front and said, “Color me up Darling and keep this one,” as I tossed her a green. I saw Shonnie throw me yet another sideways glance, rolling her eyes.
I gathered my chips and headed over to the cashier. Got my money and split back to the Union Plaza to wait for Shonnie.
Early the next morning, I ordered coffee. Laced mine with Beam, poured some sugar and lots of cream into hers. Woke her up. Then after her first four or so cigs, I taught her how to count the deck.
“Shonnie,” I said. “Aces count as zero. Two through nine count as plus one. Tens and the rest (face cards) count as minus one. You’re gonna sit there and count while you play two-dollar bets. Don’t get fancy. Just use the basic strategy I taught you. When the count goes hot, I mean, when the count goes real positive, I mean anything over plus five, you light a cig in your left hand. I will be at the bar and come on over, playing a drunk with a lot of money. Should just be a bit part for me. No acting. I can do ‘drunk’ slicker than owl shit.”
“Wait a minute!” She said. “You’re gonna play a drunk?”
“Yeah. So what?”
“Never mind. But you probably need to rehearse.”
“Funny. Anyhow, we will go to the El Cortez this evening and you havta go in first. Take a seat at the closest blackjack table to the bar. I’ll be watching you. When you signal, I will stumble on in and start throwing black chips around. You hand off the count to me by stacking some chips to your right. Five six, seven… Whatever it is. I will pretend not to know you and pick up the count. If all works out, I will score a grand, then feign needing to move on, color my chips and bug. You stay for another twenty minutes or so and then meet me back at the Plaza.”
“Great girl,” I said.
“Yeah. Fuck you! If we get in trouble, it’s on you.”
“Honey, nothing illegal ‘bout countin’, but they do frown on it. We’ll be fine. Just lay off the sauce a bit.”
I am still struggling to recover and get over her. (Listen to the MTB song) And know this Y’all, I have found a new Shonnie. Only Problem I have: She hates me. Just a hurdle I shall O’re, over… jump over… leap over.
Some of you may be waiting for the last few chapters of ‘Shonnie, The Biker’s Wife.” (I know, as I am awaiting them too). But that said, well what can I say? I tend to expose personal shit here. Sometimes it grows difficult, and I grow wary and weary. I have vowed to my Vizsla Dog
that I will finish this tale tomorrow and get past it. (My dog tends to humour me. What choice does he have? I control the ‘soup bones’)
So, with that ‘sate-ment’, I leave you just one more clue to the outcome, by way of a song (There is always ‘A Song’ isn’t there?)
Gonna Crawl Inside And Die!
P.S. This is an ever-building story. If ya don’t watch the vid, well, ya gonna miss the best half of the denouement.