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The Column

Lost Wages, Nevada
1/18/04

No cross country road-trip is complete without a little bit of Las Vegas. And this past Thursday, the El Cortez Hotel and Casino was exactly that. A very little bit of Las Vegas.

While on this trip, we haven't stayed in many hotels. If you haven't been keeping up, "we" refers to myself and fellow comedian Josh Jacobs, and "this trip" refers to a massive several-month and few-dozen state comedy tour consisting mostly of hangovers. Oh, come on, I'm kidding – I know enough to drink water before I go to sleep.

Even when hotel rooms are free, we often find them antiseptic and impersonal. Sometimes I like the quiet time a hotel gives me to regroup from spending the rest of the week at college parties. But more often than not, we prefer staying with people who don't wear nametags with their city and state.

But in Vegas, we had no choice. We don't know anyone in Vegas, if you don't count the bartender I tried to pick up when I was there two years ago. And you can't count her, because talking to someone for five minutes and leaving without knowledge of their phone number never counts for anything.

I do, however, know someone who knows someone in Vegas. His name is Orbitz, and he charges a slight fee for this knowledge. Okay, so I used a website to find a cheap hotel. It was either that or get to Vegas without sleeping arrangements, and that is never a good idea. If there is one town where it's dangerous to be awake longer than usual, it's Las Vegas.

The El Cortez was only $21 including tax for both of us. To put that in perspective, my rent in New York is almost double that. But that's without factoring in utilities. In New York, my utilities consist of gas and electric. In Las Vegas, I also have to pay for my share of the month's Texas Hold ‘Em.

Before I discuss my penchant for donating money to casinos, I should point out a few things about how crappy the El Cortez is. And the woman on the phone really called it "The El Cortez." That means "The The Cortez." Alternatively, you can call it "El The Cortez" or "El El Cortez."

The sign in the elevator letting me know that security would be willing to walk me to my car tipped me off to the kind of place this was. And if that weren't budget enough, their "Round the Clock" food specials were only combined Round the Clock – each one was available for a few hours. And there are no clocks in Las Vegas, so you can't see what time your hotel started sucking. Orbitz says The El El The Cortez has three stars. But I don't think it ever got them all in the same year. To be fair, the place across the street is worse – it advertises a $4.95 all you can eat buffet, and in small letters the sign says "nearby."

I'm not one to go to Vegas without some gambling, especially in a hotel this boring. So I took $50 and hit the poker tables. Not blackjack this time - I didn't want to play a game against the house. I figured that the odds were better playing against people who couldn't afford a grammatically correct hotel.

I was already up $20 when I sat down. Not technically, but that's how much I would have lost if I actually played Keno during dinner instead of just jotting down numbers and seeing if they'd win. So when I went up 20 or so real dollars very quickly, I was in a good mood. Especially because I was the only non-regular at the table. To be a regular at any casino is sad. To be a regular at The El Cortez is, well, these guys.

But I stayed in a bit too long, and I lost a big hand on an unlucky draw. (The River, for those of you who play). I wasn't upset, because I lost the money to someone who needed it more than me. He needed it for many things. For instance, to afford a new watch so he could find out the details on the next shift of Round the Clock specials.

I got up, walked over to the roulette wheel, put the remaining $21 I had on black, surprisingly hit, and walked away. I smiled: I had only lost $8 on the night. In other words, I spent $29 on a night in Vegas. $9, if you add my winnings from not playing Keno.

Next time I go to Vegas, maybe I'll just play the change machines. It takes as much talent as slots, and I'd win every time. Though I admit – it's a little less exciting than walking through The El Les Ha Het Das Cortez Hotel and Casino, and being thankful that I was leaving the next day.

As long as someone is available to walk me to my car.

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