Taking On Vegas

>Planning The Trip

It was 1st April 2006, and Alex and I were sitting at a blackjack table in a casino on the Isle Of Man. It was approaching 2am, and Alex was all out of chips (having lost a huge £10). I on the other hand was £43 up, and a small crowd was gathering; this is big money over there. I must have been crazy, but I decided to push all of my chips onto the felt – risking everything. As the dealer’s cards spun across the table in slow motion, there was a hush in the crowd…

A minute later… I hit 21. I’d done it. I’d beaten the house. The crowd went wild – people left their games at other tables to see who the new hot shot in town was. I scooped up my £86 of chips to cash them in, that’s when it hit me – I was in the big league now.

Fast forward to December 2006… Alex and I were sitting in the pub, waiting for our lunch to arrive, and I’m trying to get him to propose to his girlfriend (they’d been going out 8 years, so he really should give up waiting for her to ask him!) It wasn’t long before we got onto the topic of stag weekends, and before I knew it, we were planning a trip to Vegas to scope it out as a possible venue.

I had a spare Amex 2-4-1 voucher and a stack of BA miles, so the obvious way of getting there was to fly from London to LA, and then hire a car to drive the 300-odd miles to Vegas. As Alex had never flown in BA Club World or BA First, it seemed sensible to fly out in First and back in Club – this came to 125,000 BA miles using the voucher, so that just left booking the car and hotel.

Using the Amex Centurion Travel Services I booked a suite at the Wynn at a nicely discounted price, with lunch and an upgrade thrown in. And since you can’t turn up to a swanky hotel in a metro, we booked a nice Shelby GTH to make the drive that little bit more fun… A couple of weeks prior to leaving, I had a nice surprise in my Inbox. I’d won a competition, giving me up to 7 days of free Hertz car hire! Back of the net!

Since the Grand Canyon is so close to Vegas, it would be a shame not to pay a visit… so we decided to extend our stay by a day and spend a night there. We could have taken a chopper for a quick visit, but having gone all that way – a road trip was clearly on the cards.

So… everything was set. Fly to LA, drive to Vegas, win big, drive to the Grand Canyon, try not to fall in, drive back to LA, fly back to London. What could possibly go wrong?

London Heathrow – Los Angeles in British Airways FIRST Class

Our Mercedes S Class turned arrived at a bleary-eyed 06:30, and Alex and I climbed in the back, planning out a drinking rota so that one of us was safe to drive when we landed in Los Angeles.

All week, protesters had been gathering at Heathrow, campaigning against the minimal carbon emissions caused by air travel. Fortunately the protesters were nowhere to be seen as we approached Heathrow – presumably they were still in bed at 07:30, having arrived over the few days before in their clapped out camper vans which probably chuck out more emissions than the average herd of cattle after a beer and curry evening at their local tandoori.

We pulled up to BA’s premium check-in (Zone R), where there was fortunately no queue. We only had hand luggage, so collected our boarding passes and were soon on our way to the front of the security queue. Once through security, we were on our way to the lounge, via a stop at Boots for sun lotion, and IRIS to get Alex registered for a quick re-entry into the UK.

A quick shower in the T1 FIRST lounge, and we headed straight to the champagne bar, where the Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque was a welcome accompaniment to our bacon baguette breakfast.

As we boarded, the CSD asked if we’d mind being separated so two other people that were kicking up a fuss could sit together, but he said he really didn’t mind if we wanted to stay where we were. We chose not to move as we were travelling together, and had had the sense to choose our seats months in advance.

We went through to the FIRST cabin and found our seats; 4E and 4F. We had hoped for 1A/K, but unfortunately 1A had been taken when we were choosing seats, so 4E/F were the next best option for 2 people travelling together. When we’d checked in online, there were 5 unoccupied seats in the FIRST cabin. As the plane filled up, all the seats were taken, suggesting there were quite a few operation-upgrades. There was one couple that looked particularly excited at the boarding gate, and they were in 5A and 4A, so that accounted for 2 of them.

The purser came around to offer us a pre-flight drink, and I opted for the 1995 Vintage Charles Heidsieck champagne. As he poured the champagne, I realised where I knew him from; one of my Bahrain – Doha FIRST flights back in November. This was a good sign as he was not only an excellent purser, but he was also kind enough to give us a bottle of champagne to see in the holiday.

Unfortunately the plane had not been upgraded to New Club World in the business cabin, which meant that Video On Demand had not been installed. This wasn’t a problem however, as there were few films that I was interested in watching. I glanced around the cabin, but couldn’t see any celebrities to be added to the list.

Take off was delayed by an hour due to Air Traffic Control problems, but the captain said that they used the time to load up some more fuel which would allow them to cruise faster to make up the time in flight. That should please the protesters!

A few champagne refills later and we were on our way. We had a long flight ahead of us – nearly 11 hours – and when we reached the other end one of us would have to kick off the 5 hour drive to Vegas. We therefore had to pace ourselves with drinking and sleeping. Food however suffered no such restriction, so I made sure everything on the menu found a good home.

I started with a foie gras and duck confit followed by pea and ham soup – both of which were fabulous. For the main course I had the beef fillet which was OK, but not amazing. Dessert’s rhubarb tart on the other hand was excellent, by which time I was full – after all I had to save space for some snacks later!

After dinner I went up to the galley to chat to the Purser that I recognised. We had a good chat about our trip, and he also showed me the manifest so I could check my latest CIV score… which unsurprisingly was significantly down as I hadn’t flown on a paid ticket for months. I also noticed all of the “Operation Upgrade Due To Over Sale” next to 5 names.

I settled down to watch Blades Of Glory, which was fairly amusing, especially after a bottle of champagne. During the film I couldn’t help but notice that the guy in 5A had joined the girl in 4A in bed and was getting… amorous! It’s not exactly what you want to see on a plane, and when the Purser noticed he came over and asked the guy to return to his seat. Idiots.

After the film I thought it best to get a few hours of kip to help adjust to the Pacific time zone – 8 hours behind. I got changed into the new BA Pyjamas, and hung my clothes in the wardrobe. The woman in 2A tsked at me and shook her head as I made the slightest of sound when closing the cupboard doors. This was a little surprising, considering she was one of the ones upgraded and she acted like the cabin was hers!

The ear plugs went in when I realised one passenger’s snoring wasn’t going to be short lived. BA FIRST has recently been slightly refreshed, and now has a mattress (to go on the bed for a bit more comfort), as well as new PJs, slippers and a new wash bag. The bed indeed was very comfy, and I slept for a good 2 hours despite it only being lunch time.

When I awoke I settled down to another film (the disappointing Spiderman 3) and managed to sneak in a bacon baguette and a little more champagne. After the film I thought I’d practice a little Blackjack, one of the games on the In-flight Entertainment system. Unfortunately the computer seemed to win quite a few of the hands… so it must obviously be rigged…!

A couple of hours before landing, afternoon tea was served. I chose a Cornish pasty, followed by scones with cream cheese and strawberry jam, with a nice pot of tea to wash it all down. Again the food was excellent, and I managed to resist the urge to request another bacon baguette… just.

When the captain announced our decent was about to start, I nipped off to get changed back into my normal clothes, and on return the Purser presented Alex with a bottle of Champagne to help the pre-stag stag-do get underway. I definitely hope he’s a Purser on one of my future flights!

On landing we made our way to the immigration hall, and fortunately the queues weren‚Äôt long. This didn‚Äôt stop them from taking about 40 minutes to get through the 10 people ahead of us though‚Ķ I was beginning to feel really sorry for the hundreds of people sat at the back of the plane for the wait they had ahead of them‚Ķ but the feeling soon passed. Just as Alex was called forward at the front of the line, a really rude woman pushed passed him and went up… I wasn’t suprised to note it was the tutting woman from 2A… Pathetic.

Still, we never saw her again, and we were soon on the Hertz courtesy bus on our way to collect our car.

Los Angeles, California – Las Vegas, Nevada by Car

A short courtesy bus journey later and we were in the Hertz Gold queue ready to collect our Shelby GTH Mustang. We’d originally booked an Audi S4 Convertible, but we extended our holiday by a day 2 weeks before leaving, and the S4 wasn’t available for the extra day.

We did have one spot of good luck though – the car was free! For the last few years I’ve gone on road trips with friends that I went to university with. It’s always a laugh, and we usually take a video camera along. About 6 months ago Hertz ran a competition; go on a road trip, film it, send in the film, and you could win a few prizes… and hey presto, our superb DVD of “Road Trip 2K3” was a winner, and we were given a voucher for up to 7 days of free car rental. The voucher was intended for less powerful/sporty cars than the Shelby GTH, but as we were only going for 5 days, Hertz were good enough to agree to it! Result – that’s $900 saved!

Well, that’s how it should have worked… when we got to the counter they said they’d already charged my card and knew nothing of a voucher (despite emails promising me otherwise). I spent 10 minutes trying to sort it out, but then decided to just fix it when I got home as our Vegas time was disappearing by the minute! We took our keys and made our way out to the car.

Shelby GTH Mustangs are exclusive to Hertz, and are meant to be a normal Mustang on Steroids. The reality… we’ll come to later, but Hertz go through a strict check list every time the Shelby GTH is checked in and out. Other than the odd stone chip on the bonnet, ours had passed all the checks, including one which read “Traction Control OFF Switch – ensure this is inoperable” – they obviously don’t want too many people trying 4 wheel drifts round the corners! (what corners?)

It was about 30-odd degrees, so the first thing we did was drop the roof to let the sun in. Memories of a sun burnt forehead in Hawaii prompted me to apply copious amounts of sun lotion. I gently turned the key in the ignition, depressed the accelerator slightly, and was immediately satisfied by the aural pleasure offered by the car. The growl was exactly as expected from the 4.6 litre V8, and as I slipped the car into Drive (America hasn’t upgraded to Manual gear boxes yet), I eased the horses out of the car park and down the road and just out of sight…. before my right foot fell uncontrollably to the floor and we were off!

Well, we reached the end of the road before we hit the heavy traffic of LA. It was about 3pm and LA roads aren’t the best place to be at this time. The next hour was heavy going, and as we headed out of town we took the time to appreciate the surroundings. In summary… it couldn’t really be described as a country club. I’d be lying if I said it was anything like a discotheque. This was LA. And it was rubbish. It was grey, dull, and I felt as the driver, it was my duty to get us out of there as quickly as the 325 horses in my power would allow.

There is one good thing about LA though… Car Pool lanes. If you’ve got 2 or more people in your car, you can use a lane that’s set aside especially for those sharing cars. This was great, as we were able to sail past the rest of the traffic, but as we were cruising along it was scary just how many of the cars on the road contained just one person. It’s not as though the cars weren’t big enough to carry more!

The roads cleared the further we drove from LA, and as we hit the I-15 which would take us all of the way to Vegas, the number lanes steadily dropped from 7 down to 2. This gave us a chance to flex the Shelby’s rear legs. With such a huge growling engine under the bonnet and gold viper stripes running the length of the car, the performance was nothing short of… a bit underwhelming. It could cope with speeds up to 120 mph… as long as you didn’t risk doing anything rash, like approach a bend in the road. It really wasn’t built for corners – not that it liked the straights much either; to keep it pointing in the same direction you have to make lots of slight adjustments to the steering wheel… throughout the entire journey. The interior had been given a bit of a Shelby makeover, but a few taps on the various panels showed there was no hiding that unmistakable sound of cheap plastic.

It was still fun to drive, with a decent punch when you need it, but I wouldn’t own one or rent one again (although it wasn’t bad for free!).

There are quite a few other Mustangs on the road, but we only saw one other Shelby GTH while we were in the US. It’s obviously quite liked over there, as it got no end of attention from passers by. We even had one guy stop us from driving off so that he could take a photo of the car.

The I-15 took us all the way to Vegas, crossing the California-Nevada state line… not that the divide was well signposted. It was only made obvious by the casinos that actually sat right at the edge of Nevada.

As we approached Vegas the sun had just set, and to see the neon lights growing from the desert was quite a strange sight. It was still very warm – around 38-40 degrees. In fact looking at the weather for the next few days, Vegas’ lowest temperatures at night were still almost double LA’s daytime highs!

We drove a few blocks up the strip until we reached the entrance to the Wynn, and pulled in. It was about 8pm local time now, and we’d left the UK 22 hours ago…

The Wynn Hotel, Las Vegas

Despite knowing that there was a “special” entrance for guests in the Towers Suites down a side road, Alex decided to ignore my directions and sail on past the turning… so we pulled into the main entrance, which wasn’t busy… it just meant that when we got into the hotel we had to walk a bit to find the check in for our room.

I booked the hotel through American Express Centurion, which offers a discount (about 10% I think), free breakfast every day up to $20 per person, and free lunch/dinner credit of up to $45 per person, which was nice. You also get a free upgrade subject to availability… but as in this case it’s easier for the hotel to say “sorry – no availability” than to upgrade us.

We checked in, and took the elevator to our suite on the 53rd floor. Actually it was on the 43rd, but for some strange reason they skip out a whole chunk of floor numbers and jump straight from 39 to 50.

When we got to our room, it looked fantastic. Well, it did if you were a couple, as there was a huge bed. But Alex and I weren’t a couple… and nor would we ever be given the fact that I’m married and this was a pre-stag stag do in preparation for his wedding…

We had clearly specified twin beds on the booking, but when I phone down the reception they just said “Sorry – All suites have one bed”. Great. After arguing with them saying they shouldn’t have accepted the booking of a room with twin beds, they said all they could do was send up a roll-away bed, or downgrade us to a standard room with 2 beds. We decided to go for the roll-away bed option, and head down to the casino while they set it up. I also sent a quick email to travel arranger at Amex Centurion to see if there was anything she could do to help.

I had an email back the next morning from my travel arranger apologising – she’d tried to sort it with the hotel, but she quickly got the impression they weren’t going to do anything to help. As a gesture of good will, she arranged for £80 to be credited to my card so that we could have a few drinks and a meal – a very nice gesture, and gratefully received.

In the lift down to breakfast one morning, there was a very tall person in the lift standing between me and Alex. By tall, I mean a good 7ft at the very least. As we stopped at another floor another couple of tall guys got in – all of them were wearing the same kit with “US National Basketball”. One of them saw me glancing in their general direction, and thought I recognised them; he smiled back and said “What’s happening?” – I assumed this was rhetorical, so just smiled back.

As Alex and I were walking to the breakfast room I said “bloody hell he was tall”, to which he replied “who’s that?” – Alex had been completely oblivious that there 3 people in the lift a good couple of feet taller than us, having to practically bend over to fit in the lift. Lame…

The Gambling

The strategy was simple. I had a budget, and I intended to stick to it. I know full well the house has the edge, but I’d done a bit of reading, so at least I was going in with an education on where they had their edge.

First up was a spot of Roulette. I decided to play based on a well known principle – wait for Red to come up 3 times, and then place a bet on Black (e.g. $10). If it came up Red again, then place another bet on Black for $20, which would cover my previous loss, and still win the original bet of $10. If Red came up again, then just keep doubling it until Back did eventually show up (and given that Black would show up 47% of the time). Then, when your colour comes up, return to your original $10 bet and start again.

There are two flaws to this strategy:
1) You reach the table’s maximum bet
2) You run out of money to bet

The chances of hitting flaw 1 are pretty low if you start your initial bet quite low (in the tens and not the hundreds or thousands) as the table maximums were generally $15,000.

Flaw 2 was more likely though… especially as the table minimum was $25, but I’d need to get around 6 lost bets in a row for that to happen, and if any one of those bets was won, I’d be up overall.

I found a table with 3 Reds, and handed the dealer my room key (which also acts as a loyalty card). The Pit Boss came over, welcomed me by name, wished me luck and I placed a $25 chip on Black. The dealer spun the wheel one way, sent the ball round the other way, and signalled no more bets.

A waitress came around to take my drinks order, and I asked for a coke (I had no intention of letting the booze get the better of my chips!). It’s free drinks while you’re gambling in Vegas, which is always in the casino’s best interests… it helps lubricate your wallet, and it keeps you at the table while you wait for your drink.

The ball jumped around a bit before finding its coloured number. Red. My $25 chip was whisked away, and I paused for a few seconds before pushing two more chips just like it out onto the Black spot.

No more bets, and the roulette wheel spun round again. Black. Result! The dealer took $50 from the bank and placed it next to my $50 bet, and taking into account my first lost bet I was now $25 up.

I played again. And again. And again. Within 10 minutes I was $100 up and 2 cokes down. It was time for a spot of dinner. I took my chips and we headed to one of the many many restaurants in the hotel.

While we sat at the New York deli, I had a nice big grin on my face. $100 in 10 minutes, with 2 free cokes thrown in. Bargain. I didn’t have a drink with my meal as I knew I could get a free one at the table.

After we’d eaten, we wandered around the casino to see what the games were like and what was on offer. It was a sea of flashing lights, pinging machines, combined with a number of screams from people who’d just won big. There were only two games I was interested in – Roulette and Black Jack.

I happened across another Roulette table which had 5 Reds showing – perfect for my strategy, so I sat down, handed the dealer my card, and placed $25 on Black.

As the wheel and ball circled, I placed my order of a coke, and turned back to the table just in time for the ball to land. On Red.

No worries, out came two more $25 chips and I placed them on Black.

Red. And again. Red. And again. Red.

That’s when I’d had enough and called it a day. Gutted, I took my coke and headed back to the room. When we got to the room (at about midnight) we found that they still hadn’t delivered the roll-away bed. This was turning into a bit of a crap evening.

We rang reception, they said it would be there in 10 minutes. We waited. After 10 minutes we went downstairs and asked them where it was. They said it would be another 10 minutes. We grabbed a drink at the bar, and 15 minutes later we headed back to check on the progress. Still not delivered.

In total, it took over 4 hours from the first request for the hotel staff to deliver the bed. A win at heads/tails allowed me to take the big bed for the night, and I was asleep 2 minutes after entering the room.

If I were to try my tactic again, I’d spend a bit of time looking for a table that was consistently alternating between Black and Red every couple of spins. I was seriously unlucky to get so many Reds in a row, and every roulette table I passed for the entire rest of the holiday showed nothing even slightly similar to this run.

The next morning we grabbed a breakfast buffet. By “buffet” I don’t mean that there area few tables with various foods on that you can select and head back to your seat, I mean that there are about 30 different tables packed with every cuisine you can think of with no end of food in sight. Given it was free, I stocked up in an effort to make it last the whole day!

We then decided to wander out onto the Strip (the long stretch of road which houses all of the main casinos, one after the other for as far as the eye can see). Heading south, we first came to The Venetian. Each casino-hotel has something special about it; upstairs the Venetian has an amazing painted ceiling, with a gondola on a river that runs the length of the shopping area.

Given my losses the previous night, I didn’t find it easy to put my hand in my pocket for much of a gamble, but I did find a dollar, and so played on the 1c slot machines. What are you likely to win on a 1c slot machine? Well the highest I got was $1.10… so not a lot!

“Harrah’s” was next on the Strip – this seemed smaller than the other casinos, but it did offer a $10 Black Jack table, so we sat down (at a disabled table!) for a few hands. There was one lady already at the table who chatted to us quite a bit – she hadn’t been having too much luck, but we thought we’d join anyway. The dealer (I think his name was [probably] Bob) was really friendly, and instead of giving him a tip at the end, every 15 minutes or so I’d put a $5 bet on for him too (in addition to my bet). The dealer’s like this as it means they get to play a bit as well, and it’s good for the punter because the dealer will generally try and steer you to make the right move… or ask “are you sure?” if you suggest making the wrong move…

…and it worked like a charm. We stayed for about 40 minutes, by which time I was up by about $100. I felt bad for the lady already at the table who was steadily losing more and more… but I felt all better again when I exchanged my chips for dollars at the cashier.

Next we went to the Flamingo. This was much less interesting, but it did offer $10 blackjack tables (compared to The Wynn’s table minimums of $25). I decided to have a quick flutter – I set my budget at $40 (£20), and decided to see where it got me.

I’d decided that rather than trying to win back any of my losses, I would instead just use my remaining funds to enjoy my time there and eek it out as long as possible. The dealer on the table was very friendly, and having only played recently against a computer, showed us all of the different hand signals for hitting, standing, doubling down, and splitting. You need to give hand signals so that the “eyes in the sky” (the security cameras) can have no doubt as to what you’ve bet.

Alex and I played the dealer for half an hour before we decided to move on. It was great to play a game where you have a bit more control over what you’re doing, and at the end of that half hour, my $40 had turned into $90. Not bad.

The next casino down was Paris, obvious by the massive Eiffel Tower replica above it. It’s only half the size of the real Eiffel Tower, but Alex was still gullible enough to think it was a full-sized model. Bless… We had a quick wander around, but it wasn’t that exciting so decided to cross the road to the Bellagio.

The Bellagio’s special feature is a magnificent water fountain display. Well, I guess it’s magnificent, but it wasn’t actually on when we were there – it kicks off at regular times during the day, and more frequently in the evening, but I wasn’t about to hang around in the 40-degree heat waiting for it.

A quick flutter on the Black Jack tables in the Bellagio saw my day’s winnings rise by another $50, by which time my left pocket was feeling a little better. OK, I wasn’t making back much of my losses, but it was good fun and I wasn’t losing.

We decided to work our way back up the strip on that side, so next stop was the Ceaser’s Palace. This place looked HUGE from the outside… but then they all did. Inside however was pretty lame – it wasn’t particularly interesting, and no $10 blackjack tables (which were my new favourites).

We left and crossed the road to The Mirage. This was a bit more promising and we took out half and hour to win a bit more money at Black Jack. Well, I did, Alex was hovering around the break even line.

The final stop that morning was to Treasure Island – which soon came to be a popular spot for us. TI was just the other side of the road from The Wynn, and had a decent selection of $10 Black Jack tables. I settled down to play for half an hour while Alex went off to scope out other games.

After an hour I was $60 up, and Alex returned with a big grin on his face – he’d just won $100 on Video Black Jack, by accident! He “Hit” when he meant to “Stand”, and bet everything… twice… and for some reason he won both times.

Given it was about 2pm by this time, we headed back to the Wynn for an Ice Cream lunch, courtesy of Amex.

In the afternoon we thought we’d head to the north end of the Strip, and go up the Stratosphere. This casino was a very tall tower, and at the top there’s a rollercoaster that goes over the edge… It looked like fun, but unfortunately it was closed because of the weather (there was the odd cloud in the sky), so we settled for a spot of Black Jack.

The only $10 table free was different to your normal Black Jack. Instead of the normal 6 or so decks of cards dealt from a shoe, the dealer had just 2 decks and dealt by hand. Your cards came faced down to try and stop card counters. There were a few other small rule changes, but I thought I’d give it a go. I was the only one at the table, and the dealer was quite friendly, so I stuck around for 15 minutes while Alex went to look around the casino.

It felt strange playing cards down… it even meant I had to do the maths and add up the numbers myself! Still, after 15 minutes I was $45 up, so I tipped the dealer a $5 chip and we headed to the next casino… which was miles away – Circus Circus was quite a walk in the heat of the day, and a waste of time too as it was tiny and overcrowded.

In fact all of the other casinos north of the Wynn were pretty lame, so after looking at them all, we went straight back to Treasure Island to play a few more hands. This time I thought I’d give the Video Black Jack a go. I’d always been sceptical about not being able to actually see real cards being dealt from a real pack… It just seemed too easy for the computer to “conveniently” deal depending on how well the player was doing. I know these things must be carefully regulated, but I’ve written enough software programmes before to know how easy it is to slip in a few well placed anomalies. The other thing in the casinos favour is that the machines only pay you back even money on Black Jack (whereas most tables pay you back 1.5 times your bid). The plus side however was that you didn’t have to tip a computer.

I started off with a budget of $15, and decided I’d play until I either lost it all or doubled it… After 10 minutes I’d got to $30 and so cashed out. Alex wasn’t quite ready to go, so I decided to play again… but this time the computer had the better luck. The one significant difference when playing on the computer is that you can’t see a big pile of chips building up in front of you… each time I won I would often “Let It Ride” (i.e. bet my winnings on the next hand)… and so you won even bigger next time. Only you don’t realise you might be betting significant amounts of money and a bad hand means you lose it all. 10 minutes later I’d lost $90, so decided to call it a day.

On the last night in the evening we took a taxi to the bottom of the Strip to try out the casinos down there that were too far to walk. We tried Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Excalibur, New York New York and the MGM Grand. I wouldn’t say any of them were particularly interesting – and it took a while in Luxor to find the casino! We’d entered by walking over from Mandalay Bay and when we got into the Luxor pyramid, it took a few minutes to realise the casino was actually below us… and there were no signs to help us out either!

Alex had had a few losses earlier in the day, so he wasn‚Äôt up for gambling too much more‚Ķ I on the other hand was doing well ‚Äì I‚Äôd learnt from my previous mistakes on Video Black Jack and bet one or two dollars a hand, and rarely letting my bets ride. I‚Äôd start each game with a budget of $4, and cash out when I hit a suitable win‚Ķ on each machine I did this, and each time got to $30 before cashing out. So that Alex wasn‚Äôt left out, I gave him a few $1 notes to play fritter away 🙂

On the Morning that we checked out of The Wynn, I had a couple of $100 bills and a single $1 in my pocket. As we’d need to tip the Valet $5 for collecting our car, I thought I’d see if I could turn my $1 into $5 playing Video Black Jack, rather than splitting a $100 note. 5 minutes later I was on $61 – back of the net!

The Hoover Dam, Nevada/Arizona

On one of the mornings while in Vegas, we decided to drive out to the Hoover Dam, which sits on the Colorado River right on the border of Nevada and Arizona. The drive was about half an hour, and en route we decided to try out the Shelby’s satellite radio… 5 minutes later we were listening to the lovely Feane Cotton on Radio 1! The great thing about satellite radio is they time-shift the broadcast, so that despite the time difference, when it’s lunchtime in the states, we’re listening to lunchtime Radio 1.

Fearne kept us company all the way to the Hoover Dam, which was nice. We parked up and entered the visitor’s centre. For the princely sum of $11, we were given the grand tour, which started with a 10 minute video about the building of the Dam, followed by a guided tour of the generators.

It was all very impressive, but perhaps most impressive of all was that the project was finished 2 years ahead of schedule and several million under budget… you don’t see that these days!

On our way out, we stopped at the request of a passer by for a quick photo shoot of the car, and we were on our way.

Las Vegas, Nevada – The Grand Canyon, Arizona

The 6 hour drive to the Grand Canyon gave us another chance to flex the muscles of the Shelby GTH Mustang. It was a 260 mile drive, and most of it was on one road – the I-40.

After 150 miles we stopped to refuel (this car was very thirsty), and fortunately petrol over in the states is dirt cheap – about 25p a litre! We pulled in at the “Road Kill Café” for a bite to eat. It wasn’t the greatest food in the world, but it kept us going.

For the final leg Alex was driving. For long stretches of the journey it was single lane, and for ages we were stuck behind a Sebring doing 65mph. For a short distance the road opened up to two lanes, so Alex floored it to overtake the granddad in the Sebring, just in time see a police car coming the other way on the other side of the road.

Alex quickly pulled in and slowed right down to 70mph (which we assumed to be the speed limit), and we trundled on whilst carefully looking in the rear view mirror to see what the cop would do.

In true TV style he pulled over to the side of the road, did a U turn, put on the flashy lights, and gave chase. Alex bricked it. As the police car approached, Alex pulled over into a lay-by.

Alex lowered the window as the officer approached. “It’s a nice car isn’t it?” The officer said with a hint of sarcasm. Alex’s replied “Oh, yes it is thanks”, as though the only reason he’d pulled him over was to talk about how nice the car was.

The officer was not amused. He asked Alex to step out of the car, and marched him over to his police car. In seconds Alex was against the side of the car, legs spread, arm held behind his back, and was being padded down to see if he was carrying a “piece” (I know all the lingo).

From the safety of the car I felt it was my obligation to video all of this – I’ll stick it up here when I get a second.

Alex had been doing 96mph in what he then found out was a 65mph limit, which the officer deemed “excessive” for overtaking the Sebring Granddad. After a fair bit of questioning, the officer asked how much longer Alex was in the country; Alex said he was flying back tomorrow, so the officer said that for this reason alone he’s spare him a night in a cell – if he’d locked him up for 24 hours then he would miss his flight. Instead he was given a court summons, with the option of pleading guilty and paying a $274, but the great thing about being abroad is no points on the license.

After everything short of a full cavity search, we were on our way… at 65mph. I did feel sorry for Alex… but not as much as when we arrived at our hotel no more than 5 minutes later… that really was a spot of bad luck. Still, it made me feel better about my gambling losses.

The Holiday Inn Express, Grand Canyon, Arizona

Well… it wasn’t the Wynn… but then I didn’t expect it to be. However, for $135 we got something the Wynn simply couldn’t offer. Two beds.

The hotel was completely full (and a sign on the check-in desk confirmed it) so there was no chance of getting my subject-to-availability-upgrade. The rooms were like every other Holiday Inn Express – basic but comfortable. The check-in staff were friendly, but I did wonder whether they were on a “reintegrating into society” day run by the local rehab centre.

We were superbly placed for the Grand Canyon – literally 5 minutes drive from the edge where you can park up and have a gander. It was getting close to sunset, so we jumped back into the Shelby and headed straight there. Alex was driving, and he made a point of following the speed limits to the letter (including the 15mph limit which everyone behind was none too impressed with).

The entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park was 2 miles North of the hotel, and there was a small entrance fee for the car (about $25 I think) which allowed access to the park for 7 days.

Soon after we’d entered the park area (and by soon I mean in terms of distance – it actually took quite a while to get anywhere with Alex’s new driving style) we came across a large number of cars parked up so we decided to follow suit and see what they were looking at.

I don’t like using the word “awesome” – it’s too American student-speak… but it was awesome. The photo doesn’t do any justice to the shear scale and beauty of the Grand Canyon. It’s between 4 and 18 miles to the other side depending on where you are, and 277 miles long.

It takes days to properly see the Grand Canyon, but we didn’t have days. We wanted to do a helicopter ride through it, but we knew we had a long drive back to LA the next day, so decided to leave all that fun until we could come back and do it properly.

We drove on down to another view point, although unsurprisingly the view was pretty similar.

As the sun set, we decided to head back to the hotel and chill. We weren’t hungry as our Road Kill Café lunch had filled us up, so we settled down to watch some early Top Gear episodes that we’d brought – in particular we watched James May’s first ever Top Gear show…

The next morning, we headed down for our complimentary breakfast. This, I have to say, was not awesome. It was at best disappointing. The breakfast area was absolutely packed, it took about 5 minutes to get to the orange juice, and when I asked one of the staff where the plates were, he looked confused and just walked off… nice.

Having reviewed all of the options, the only thing I thought I might be able to stomach was a toasted bagel with cream cheese. Unfortunately the person before me decided he was going to take 5 cream cheese portions, which left just 1 for me, and a worrying looking “strawberry cream cheese” option. I took 1 of each, and spread the normal cream cheese on the first half of my bagel. So far so OK, now for the second half using the strawberry cream cheese… I was nearly sick. It was absolutely foul. One bite was all I could manage before we upped and left. I can still taste it now (shudder).

We packed up and went down to check out – a different yet equally strange girl checked us out before we headed out to the car to start 500 mile run back to LA.

Grand Canyon, Arizona – Los Angeles, California by Car

En route, we had one important stop to make… the American Justice Court of Williams, Arizona. Yup – Alex had to visit pay his debt to society.

We found the court pretty easily, what with there being only one road in Williams, and we would bet what remained of our Vegas gambling budget that it had at least one big US Flag flying proudly. So in Alex went while I waited in the car, expecting Alex to return about an hour later having been beaten while handcuffed to an electric chair.

5 minutes later he strolls out saying how friendly they were in there! He’d wandered in they’d said “Hello sir how are you? Oh I see you’ve got a ticket! Alrighty then”… Alex hands over his ticket, and he even gets a receipt and a “Have a nice day” on his way out! Not even the thread of someone busting a cap in his ass. All very disappointing.

Still, we were now on our way to L.A. We made good progress, and stopped for lunch when we saw some random burger place called “DQ”. The road-side sign had some nice looking burgers, and I was pretty hungry, so it looked a good choice.

Mental note for the future – DQ sucks big time. I’m not even going to describe the pathetic attempt at a burger they shoved infront of me, whist simultaneously robbing me of up to $10. I really wasn’t having much luck with food today.

We were soon on our way again, and looking at the map, LAX airport wasn’t far from Newport, home of The OC! Now there was no way I could go to LA without popping to the beach… have you seen some of the women on The OC? Oh yes…

A few hours later, as we rolled into the Newport Beach area, it was time to drop the roof, don the sunnies, and cruise into town.

I can’t say I was that impressed with it… I didn’t even see Summer while I was there. Still, the weather was fantastic, so we grabbed a couple of ice creams and walked along the beach.

At about 6pm it was time to jump back in the pimp-mobile and make our way to the airport. We’d thought the traffic was going to be hell at that time, but we had an excellent run, making full use of the Car Pool Lane again. We arrived at the Hertz car drop place, got changed into some fresh clothes, and took the courtesy bus to Terminal B.

Los Angeles – London Heathrow in British Airways Club World

There was a huge queue for economy check in for BA268, but fortunately only a 1 person in each of the Club and First queues, so we jumped into the latter. Shortly after, a number of other people joined the club queue.

And every single person was dealt with before us… I have no idea what the numpty being checked in on the First desk was doing, but he took more than 20 minutes. In the end we just moved over into the Club queue, and took a whole 30 seconds to receive our boarding passes and be wished a nice flight. Now why couldn’t Mr First do that?!

We took the escalator up to the First Class lounge – it was only a temporary shared lounge while the proper BA lounges were being refurbished. It was a reasonable sized area to sit and wait for our flight, with a small selection of drinks. The “champagne” was a Californian Cooks “champagne”. I can’t stop using the double quotes because I really can’t pretend it was real champagne, despite what the label claimed.

For reference, the “champagne” was horrible. Sickly sweet, and tasted like strawberry milkshake. In fact now I think about it, it tastes something like that disgusting breakfast in the Holiday Inn Express. Never again.

Our flights boarded about an hour late, and we were pretty tired by this point. As the lounge had been land-side, we still had to clear security. It wasn’t busy, so didn’t take long, although I was surprised that they had a strict no liquids rule (rather than just the usual 100ml items in a clear bag). I knew I had liquids separated out into a clear plastic bag, so I just ignored the security lady and put my liquid bag clearly into a box with my wallet etc. and they went through no problems.

On the other side it was a reasonable walk to the gate, but boarding was swift and after boarding we took the stairs up to the upper deck. Before reaching the stairs it was immediately obvious that the plane had been upgraded to New Club World – because I was walking through World Traveller Plus to get to the stairs. When some of the planes were upgraded they moved the World Traveller Plus cabin in front of the Club World cabin so that they could get an extra couple of seats in.

As we took our seats, the crew said their hellos and brought us some champagne. As we soon found out the crew were excellent – very friendly, happy to have a joke, and very quick when serving food and drinks.

As the flight had been upgraded to New Club World, the plane had been fitted with Video on Demand. Following a supper of Steak, I settled down to watch a film – I can’t remember what it was called, but it was the one with Nicholas Cage where he could see 2 minutes into the future. It was pretty pathetic, and by the time it was finished, I was ready for a sleep.

I only wanted to get at most 2 hours sleep as the time difference meant it would be time for bed soon after we landed. I put my eye mask on and my ear plugs in… and 6 hours later I awoke to breakfast being served! The bed really was comfortable, and the smell of my bacon baguette finished off the flight perfectly.

The crew had a couple of bottles of wine that they’d opened but didn’t get drunk before landing, so they were kind enough to seal them back up and give them to us. Always nice to have that little parting gift!

As we left the flight and headed to the immigrations hall we bypassed the queues to use the IRIS machine. I went in first, but for some reason the machine wasn’t playing ball. The person manning the booth said they’d been having a few problems with it and escorted me to the front of the immigration queues – I was through in seconds and we were soon on our way out to meet our chauffeur to take us back to reality.