Lucky 13

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We were in Vegas on Friday the 13th, and we got really, really lucky.

At the time, it didn’t feel that way. We thought we’d broken even.  We decided that Dave’s big win on Thursday the 12th made up for the long string of lost twenties the next day. But wouldn’t that make the two twenties we gave to the airport slots on Saturday the 14th a loss? Not a big loss, but still. When you’re in Vegas on Friday the 13th, shouldn’t there be some kind of crazy contrary luck that kicks in?

Maybe we didn’t spend enough, I thought as we waited for our delayed flight and listened to our niece describe how she had won big at the same slot machine her dad favors. I thought, why didn’t I try that slot machine? And really, it wasn’t the money, it was the wanting to win. I wanted to be able to come back and say, “Gosh, it was so easy,” all smiles and shrugs. “I guess I we just got lucky.”

When we got back to Chicago, our friends who had watched Django picked us up from the airport and drove us back to their place, where we’d left our car. After some small talk, they told us that the night before, someone had gone on a car bashing binge in the area. Sixteen cars in all, in an area where this doesn’t happen, where people park on the street all the time, even if they have a garage. Whoever did it, a kid or a gang or whoever, probably used a baseball bat. Windows, body, windshield, all smashed. Our friends had heard something during the night, but when they looked outside they didn’t see anything. The next morning, they learned what had happened. It happened to the car parked directly in front of ours.

I immediately thought, Thank God we didn’t park in that spot. Like somehow we’d made a good choice, and the kid who lost his car, a car he took meticulous car of, shoveling it out all through the winter’s blizzard, washing and polishing it himself, he made a bad choice. When in fact, exactly where we parked was random. Exactly where the kid parked was random. The exact moment the thug or thugs decided to wield the bat on this particular block in this particular neighborhood was random. We just got lucky on Friday the 13th. And the kid who lost his perfect car didn’t.

Eating bacon in Las Vegas

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Not one of the times.

The first time was the morning after we arrived in Paris. Room service bacon, so it gets extra points. I give it a solid B.

The second time was late that night. After an evening nap, when all I wanted to do was get back to my friends Deuces Wild and Double Cherry Play Max Credits. But Dave said I should eat something so we stopped at a charming Parisienne cafe, where I filled out a keno form and waited for my Cobb salad. Bacon on the Cobb was smokey and nicely sized for the avocado. I give it an B+.

Third time was the next morning at the pool. Perfect weather, perfect water, perfect lounger. Followed by a late breakfast at the poolside cafe. Probably the same stock they serve in room service, but blandness more pronounced in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, Half Scale. B-.

Fourth and last was across the street from Paris, after seeing O and meeting Dave’s friend J—, who steals the show. Very proud of myself for watching the most death-defying bits with eyes open and ignoring the voice that said if I watched I would doom them to fall, so I ordered both roasted tomato soup and scallops Hollandaise. Sauce on the side as recommended by waiter. Three huge scallops, each sitting on a square of bacon which sat on a potato pancake, all topped with lobster garnish. Smokey, sweet, delicate bacon that magicalized the sandwiching factors into mouth bliss. I award this bacon an A.

Not much time before we head home. Will there be a fifth bacon contender? Ladies and gentlemen, betting closes in two hours.

If you build it

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They might come.

We took a drive to a small town outside Vegas, to visit an old neighbor’s restaurant. It seemed reasonable to take a break from gambling, though I hated to lose the pool time. Cousin M— drove, in the SUV he rented to drive up from LA, and Dave and brother J— and I looked out at the red rock landscape as we rode along.

The restaurant is in an office park, surrounded by an allergy clinic and a cancer clinic. The food is fantastic. Genuine Italian beef sandwiches and sausage sandwiches and pepper and egg sandwiches, on fresh-baked homemade bread. He also does great entrees, mostly Italian or German (he’s half of each), or Greek (his wife). The place is super clean and the service is quick.

The restaurant is struggling. Our friend opened it in the spring of 2008. He chose this spot, north of the center of town, because a casino was opening across the street, Fedex and UPS were opening warehouses up the road, there was a Starbucks near by, a brand new Walgreens… the town was growing in this direction. The office park meant plenty of parking, and he could build his kitchen exactly the way he wanted it, in a clean, well-maintained space. Then the town council had decided the Fedex and UPS hubs didn’t fit the image of the wealthy leisure destination they wanted the town to become, so no delivery trucks would be crisscrossing past the sandwich shop. A month later, the market crashed. The casino never broke ground. Walgreens bought Rite-Aid and didn’t want their new Walgreens to compete with the established Rite-Aid downtown, so that closed. So did Starbucks.

The only food spots that seem to succeed in this town are fast food joints. No one has money. One of the three casinos closed a year ago, and 600 people had nowhere else to get a job. Many of the snowbirds can’t afford to come lately, and those who can usually eat in whatever clubhouse they’re golfing at. People tell our friend his menu is too large, even as they order the Greek lemon chicken and lasagna and deep dish pizza. Our friend says he’s not going to give up. “If I were doing something wrong, my concept was wrong or people didn’t like the food, then I’d have to consider,” he says. “But I’m too damn stubborn to call it quits just because of the economy.” So he makes adjustments and keeps going.

We drive back to Vegas, our bellies content, a couple of our pockets full of surprising wins from the town’s casino. I ask M— if he still mixes his cereals the way he had taught me to a few years ago when I visited him in L.A. “Oh yeah,” he says. “Sometime I mix four or five.”

“What’s a typical mix?”

“I start with a layer of frosted Mini-Wheats, because they float everything up. Then a layer of Life. Then some kind of granola, something heavy. Then maybe a layer of crunchy Raisin Bran, it’s different than regular Raisin Bran, it’s really good. And on the top, maybe a layer of Quisp.”

Brother J— is surprised. “They still make Quisp?”

“Oh yeah,” says M—. “You just have to order it from the company, a case at a time.”

If there are people in the world willing to order Quisp from the company by the case, just to use it as the fifth layer in their cereal mix, then maybe our friend is right. Eventually, his clientele will find him.