April 25, 2010
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      You know what?   Vegas just ain’t what it used to be.

      Unfortunately, neither am I.

      These two convergent axioms were proven beyond doubt, just last week, when I squired my lovely girlfriend, the fair Roxanne, to Sin City itself for a few days of fun and frolic and—I had hoped—self discovery.   Or, more precisely, a re-discovery of what gets under my skin.   Of what has endured for decades within my soul.   Of what makes me, well, me.


The Sports Philosopher Might Not Be Lucky Making Bets, But He’s Lucky in Other Ways.



      Las Vegas was, beyond question, an important recurrent litmus test of my youth.   Indeed an important building block of my own personal life story.   It is where my closest friends and I—and that includes my late brother—would go to gamble, to learn how and what to drink, to blow off steam, to suck greedily the pap of Life (to borrow from Mr. Fitzgerald) and, most importantly, to galvanize our mutual interest in the various games of Sport by betting on them.   Nothing makes the myriad nuances of a football, baseball, or basketball game more intensely interesting or blindingly clear than tendering a tidy wager on it.   I am literally afraid to add up all the times I ventured to Vegas between 1972 and 2002, equally afraid to speculate as to how many games I ever made a bet on.   The numbers could be emotionally daunting.   Suffice to say that they are.

      Anyway, I was looking forward to placing some shrewd, successful sports wagers whilst concurrently regaling Roxanne with heartwarming tales of these past gambling junkets.   The latter goal was accomplished easily enough; I recalled with no difficulty all the great Vegas stories, the time I once won $5,000 on a single horse race, the time I once hit a 3-team parlay for $3,500, the time I bet that superstar 49er running back Roger Craig would out-rush the L.A. Rams’ pedestrian Greg Bell in a playoff game at even odds (he did), the time I wagered that geriatric George Foreman would flatten the overrated and overhyped Gerry Cooney in less than four rounds (he did), the time my great and good friend Kevin D. White (now deceased, sadly) couldn’t bear to watch Game Six of the 1986 World Series due to a huge bet he had placed on the Red Sox, and I had to break the news to him that Bill Buckner just let an easy ground ball roll between his legs to lose the game and, by extension, Kevin’s bet.   (He was playing a little kid’s video game called “Centipede” at the time, trying to pretend this holocaust wasn’t even happening.)   To make matters worse, halfway through the long drive home on the I-15 some pimply-faced kid working at the Bun Boy coffee shop (in the quintessentially middle-of-nowhere ghost town of Baker) shooed friend Kevin rudely away from a closed section of that restaurant, thoroughly vexing this disillusioned, broken man, and thus prompting his immortal declaration, “The last thing in the world I need right now is grief from Bun Boy!!!”   Words to live by.

      There were hundreds of great stories to choose from.   I touched on but a few.   Roxanne listened quietly and in awe, her rapt visage contorted in wonder.   It was wonderful to reminisce, wonderful to have an audience to preach to.

      However, a funny thing happened on the way to that other goal, those shrewd, successful sports wagers I was looking forward to placing.   I used to be pretty darned good at it.

      But now?   I stink.

      No feel, no touch, no confidence.   I was surprised.   Over the years, as I have aged and oozed inexorably towards death, I have not been surprised at all at the diminishment of my strength or speed or sight, or even at the deterioration of other cherished bodily functions (egad!), but I figured I’d always be good at picking ballgames.   How demoralizing.   At the very least I was out of practice, having made only one previous trip to Las Vegas since 2002; and that was for a birthday party, not a serious gambling junket.   So to say I was unsure of myself last week is an understatement.   Void of confidence, I wound up only betting on two baseball games all weekend.   I bet big.   I lost both.   Badly.   Worse yet, I knew I was going to lose even as I was making the wagers.   It was very strange.

      The strangeness continued that night at dinner.   Naturally I wanted to show Rox what a suave man about town I was, so I took her to a fine, elegant restaurant downtown called Hugo’s Cellar, located deep in the bowels of the Four Queens Hotel, a restaurant which—during the 80s—was a special place for me and my friends during our Vegas salad days.   The first inkling I had that there was something wrong was when I pulled up to the Four Queens valet and was stopped in my tracks by an ambulance that was having a great deal of trouble simply turning around (if there was a sick guy in there he’s dead now), accompanied by a cop staring me down like I was scum, followed by finally getting to the valet desk only to have to sit there for five minutes waiting for some slow-witted valet guy to actually wander by and take our car.   But no problem.   It was a minor glitch in our perfect weekend, I figured.   Little did I know….

      We had a great dinner, Rox was totally blown away by my dash and panache, all the more so, no doubt, by the fine, $100-dollar bottle of Puligny Montrachet I ordered to complement our bankruptcy-inducing lobster and prime rib feast, procured of course in order to show her that I was, indeed, quite the man about town.   After dinner, being a sentimental old guy, I asked the sommelier for the empty wine bottle as a memento.   He said he’d be happy to fish it out of the trash.   Uh, okay.

      It wasn’t until after I got to the car that I realized that he’d come back with the wrong empty bottle.   Evidently our sommelier can’t read.   So now I was in possession of some other loser’s empty wine bottle.   This kind of thing always happens to me, and naturally I didn’t want to say that to Roxanne, but geez, people, this kind of thing always happens to me.   Anyway, my Puligny Montrachet bottle was gone forever.   A hundred bucks apparently doesn’t buy you as much respect as in the old days, I thought.   Bad omen, I wondered?   Maybe not.   But certainly a little strange….

      But stranger still was everything else that was happening.   Or rather was happening to me.   It was a comedy of indignities.

      It started to get out of hand at the Mirage.   We used to always head over to the Mirage after an afternoon of sports betting in the old days, to look at the giant white tigers and then play a little Omaha, Omaha being a more fun, more complicated version of Texas Hold ‘Em.   In the old days, the Mirage was the only place you could even be sure to find an Omaha game.   But first we asked about the tigers: “Sir, the white tigers are only available for viewing from ten to five, and it costs fifteen dollars.   Per person.”   Great.   Not only do the giant white tigers suddenly cost money just to look at, but now they keep banker’s hours to boot.   Next, it was on to the poker tables: “Sir, we don’t play Omaha here….I don’t think we ever have!”   Rox held my arm; I held my tongue.   Finally, to the box office, to inquire about the Beatles-based Cirque du Soleil show called “Love” they have there: “Sir, the box office closed two minutes ago, but you can call our handy toll-free number tomorrow after nine-thirty if you wish!”   By now I was ready to stick a fork in my ear….

      So we headed across the street to the Venetian.   We had to have better luck at a hotel as elegant as the Venetian, right?   Nope.   First of all, no valet parking.   They literally wouldn’t let me park valet.   What the heck is up with valet?   Remember the days when valet parking was supposed to make life EASIER???:  Sir, we’re only offering valet to our hotel guests this evening, but if you’d like to park several hundred yards away in a filthy, deserted, super- scary underground garage where you’ll probably both be gang-raped and then left for dead, that would be acceptable!”   I’m not sure if those were the valet guy’s exact words, but in the state I was in that’s what it sounded like to me.   

      At least they had an Omaha game going at the Venetian.   Good news.   Or so I thought.   I was first on the waiting list, they said, and added that it would likely be “only a couple of minutes” before my name was called.   Unfortunately, nothing about the previous sentence was true.   Totally ignored, I meekly checked in again 25 agonizing minutes later.   And still no open seat: “But don’t worry, sir, you’re second in line, so it really shouldn’t be too much longer!”   I had dropped from 1st in line to 2nd in line by committing no crime more severe than standing quietly and respectfully in one place for 25 minutes, 25 minutes of my life I will never, ever get back.   By this time Roxanne wasn’t supporting me so much as she was just plain laughing at me….

      I’ll show her, I thought.   I figured I’d give myself one last shot at allowing the Las Vegas Strip to aid me in impressing a woman with my style and flair.   Hotel Paris.   One last shot, I figured, at being vouchsafed the kind of Las Vegas hospitality a man about town like myself feels he’s entitled to.   It was only 11:00 o’clock.   Shank of the evening.   Yessireebob, I’ll show her, I thought….

      Roxanne wanted to buy her broken man about town a drink at the Napoleon Bar.   Perfect, I thought; I love a good piano bar, a good drink, and a good woman all at the same time.   But the Napoleon Bar was crowded with loud, Karaoke-loving tourists having a particularly loud and irritating birthday party.   Not a seat to be had, even if we’d wanted one.   Perfect.   Also, all the restaurants in the Paris had just closed down.   Just friggin’ perfect!   I was ready to hit somebody.   Calm yourself, I said to myself, stay cool.   I took a deep breath….last chance:  “Let’s go up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, honey,” I suavely droned, “I’ll give you a view of this city you’ll never forget, and ply you with tasty drinks along the way,” I added adroitly.   Roxanne smiled warmly.   She knew a man about town when she saw one.   We shared a brief, tender kiss.   We hurried to the elevator.   We pushed the button….closed.   Dark.   Inert.   I grabbed a floorman: “What the hell is going on here?” I pleaded.   He informed me that Las Vegas tends to wind down around 11:30 or so nowadays.   What???   Vegas winds down?    “Winds down”???   I was beginning to think they were filming an all-new Twilight Zone adventure or something.   I was depressed.   Roxanne wasn’t depressed.   She’s never depressed.   She loves life.   And after all, she knew she was with the Sports Philosopher.   A man about town….

      Abandoning the Venetian, the Paris, and the Strip altogether now seemed like the only logical option.  

      But not before driving by the old Stardust hotel, where we used to do most of our Sports betting in the old days….yeah, it was gone.   Completely gone.   Only a nuclear-like crater, ringed by a chain link construction fence, remained.   I felt a hundred years old.   Sure, the Stardust was a tired, old, beat-up dinosaur of a hotel, but dammit it was our hotel.   Gone.   The symbolism was excruciating.   I knew there were only two things I could do.   I started grinding my teeth while concurrently practicing my swearing….

      Finally we headed over to the Orleans, a more meat-and-potatoes hotel a little off the beaten path.   They had given us some ‘free drink’ coupons when I’d made my losing bets there that same morning.   A stiff free drink was starting to sound pretty darn good: “Sir, I’m sorry, but these coupons aren’t valid.”   Not valid?   Why the hell not, I asked; seething.   “Because it’s after midnight, which means the date on the date-stamp is wrong.   They’re pretty strict about things like that!”   I looked at my watch.   It was 12:35 a.m.   Thirty-five minutes past the cut-off.   For the love of God….I guess I must have looked a little suicidal, because the bartender actually took pity on me and quickly whipped up a couple of free Irish coffees, and served them to me with a friendly smile.   Outstanding!   Now this was the Vegas hospitality I remember!  Things were starting to look up!   Except that they were the strongest, foulest, most god-awful Irish coffees either of us had ever had, we couldn’t come close to finishing them, and we sulked out of the Orleans like we’d just blown our last few dollars in the world betting the ‘over’ on the Apocalypse….

      The next day wasn’t much better.   At lunch Roxanne spilled her glass of wine all over me.   I was just quietly sitting there you understand, grieving, minding my own business.   And then suddenly I was drenched with wine.   I think she was reaching frantically for the ketchup; ‘pretty dangerous sitting between that girl and a good meal.   Later that night, at the “Love” show, at their gift shop (where I was trying to generate some good Karma by buying a Beatles T-shirt for my kid), I saw that the sales girl had a name tag that said “Polly”.   Which was my mom’s name.   Wow.   I’d never actually met anyone else named Polly before.   So you can understand why I was skeptical.   “Is your name really Polly?” I asked somewhat stupidly.   She looked at me like I was either a magician or with the secret police: “Why do you ask that?” she snapped back, rudely, her voice laced with suspicion.  I explained sweetly that Polly was my mother’s name, and I was just affirming that her name was Polly too, just as her name tag clearly said….to which she replied, “Well no, actually it isn’t.   My name isn’t Polly.   I lost my name tag today and somebody else gave me this one.   We have to wear name tags.”   That’s what she said.   Swear to God.    

      The next morning the fair Roxanne—ever the optimist—handed me a cup of strong coffee for the road and asked me if I needed to visit the Sports Book to make some more baseball bets before heading out of town.   Yeah, right.   As if I could stomach any more indignation.   Hey, you suppose she was being sarcastic?   Impish?   Wry?   I said nothing.   I did, however, glare back at her as if with murder in my heart.

      The final dagger of indignation I still had yet to endure was the drive home.  

      In the old days it was always three and a half to four hours to ford the desert, depending on how fast one was willing to drive and how close that driver was to falling asleep and driving off the road.    But now?   It took me over six and three quarter hours to drive two hundred and forty five measly miles!   At first I thought it was just a traffic accident.   Just a little fender-bender traffic jam.   But it turned out to be seven separate non-fender-bender traffic jams!   As my late father used to say, ‘too many humanoids in the world.   I was not prepared.   All my friends know I generally live in the past.   And I hadn’t been to Vegas in years.   So why, then, hadn’t anybody prepared me for this?   I called my sister when I got home and vigorously queried her: “Did you know about this?” I raged.   “Oh yeah, ‘bro, that kind of Sunday afternoon traffic has been going on for about five years now.   You should really try to avoid that next time, bonehead.”   Thanks, sis.

      As you can well imagine, after losing my bets and my confidence and my money and my pride and my dignity at the hands of so many petty functionaries I was pretty depressed during each of these seven separate stupid traffic jams.   And exhausted.   The coffee wasn’t working.   To stay awake I was slapping myself in the face as hard as I could, to generate sufficient pain to keep my eyes open, which at least was good and fitting therapy.   And Roxie was no help.   She was soon asleep in the passenger’s seat, a smile literally punctuating her beautiful, blissful, absurdly contented face.   I was all alone with my grief.

      And then something wonderful happened.

      I turned on the radio, and managed to locate the ESPN Sunday Night Game of the Week.   Mets versus Cardinals.   Remembering my losing baseball wagers, I almost turned it off.   Thank god I did not.   For it saved me.   Literally saved me, as baseball has done so many, many times over the years.   It was Gary Thorne and Dave “Soup” Campbell calling the action.   Neither one of these guys is Vin Scully, but they are both fine announcers nonetheless, with ex-player Campbell always quick to amusingly disparage his own marginal baseball skills in order to spin an effective yarn.

      I had forgotten how much I enjoy listening to a baseball game on the radio.   There’s nothing quite like it.   With only your ears to receive the action, your imagination is automatically recruited in order to visualize the action; one of the many joys television has taken away from us.   In the 2nd inning a Mets guy ripped a triple into the gap, scoring two runs, and then scored himself on the errant throw from right field.   As the reportage penetrated my ears I could literally see the runners circumnavigating the bases, leaning slightly to their left as they cut the corner at third, one by one, dust flying up as three left cleats (if each runner executed correctly) slapped the 3rd-base bag, I could see the crowd rise to encourage the fielders (as this was a Cardinal home game), I could see the outfielder fail to bend his back on the throw home causing the ball to sail plaintively over the catcher’s head, I could see the Mets dugout explode in jubilation, in the unequalled, childlike thrill of watching a teammate hitting a ball that results in flagrant group success.   It made me ache for my youth.   My chest hurt.   God, it felt great.   The previous night these same two teams had played 20 innings and scored a grand total of three runs in seven hours.   I started to explain to Roxanne how inexplicably neat it was that they had just scored a like amount of runs in less than 15 seconds!

      Then I looked over and remembered she was asleep.   So I slapped her.  (just kidding)

      Back to the game.   My man “Soup” was in rare form.   He was anecdote-ing me to death.   First he revealed that Cards catcher Yadier Molina (ya gotta love any guy named Yadier) just became the first catcher to squat for 20 or more innings in a game and then start the very next game behind the plate the very next day in over 17 years.   Yadier would catch all nine innings this day as well.   ‘Guy must have knee joints like steel springs….I myself can barely negotiate a flight of stairs.   Stairs, hell, sometimes I can barely get up off the damn couch.   Then ol’ Soup adds that Yadier is one of only three major league players to ever hit a home run in the 9th inning or later of a 7th game of any playoff series or World Series, ever, in all of baseball history.   Which, coincidentally, was also against the Mets.   Anyway, he’s one of only three guys to ever go deep in the 9th inning or later of a 7th game, and the only one to ever do it on the road.   (I’m counting on you, my loyal fans, to email me the names of the other two.   Yeah, it’s a quiz.   Make me proud.)

      Soup goes on to explain that Mets pitcher John Maine is tiring badly and has already thrown 110 pitches, but since it’s only the 5th inning and he’s still ahead 3-0, his manager Jerry Manuel cannot take him out of the game.   Even though disaster clearly looms on the horizon.   Why can’t he, you ask?   Because, ol’ Soup goes on, a major league starting pitcher needs to go five full innings to qualify for a win, and if Manuel takes Maine out only three outs from registering a victory, he loses Maine’s confidence, respect, love and loyalty for the rest of the season.   A pitcher needs to know his manager has faith in him, says Soup.   But this particular pitcher is fried.   He’s done.   But he’s ahead.   And he needs to go five.   So Manuel is screwed.   He is trapped.   You guessed it; some Cardinal guy hits a 3-run home run in the 5th, Maine is yanked one batter too late, and the Cards go on to win 5-3.  

      It was perfect.   Like I said, Soup was in rare form.

      Coming up on Barstow, Roxanne finally wakes up just in time to urge me to pull off the freeway to go to this little Mexican place in Lenwood she likes, so she can order up and pound down a huge steak burrito.   Oh by the way, when I mentioned to her how sleepy I was all the way from Vegas to Barstow, and how I almost drove off the road, she picked that moment to inform me that she’d accidentally gotten me Decaf for the long drive rather than regular coffee.   Decaf.   As in no caffeine.   No drugs to keep either one of us awake.   At least she apologized, in between her wild bursts of laughter.   No caffeine…. No wonder she slept so well….whatever.   So she wolfs down this burrito the size of a small microwave oven with a look of, that’s right, blissfully absurd contentment on her face.   With each succeeding, greedy bite, her eyes roll back in her head just like a thresher shark.   I’m beginning to think that girl has devised a weird new way to maintain a perfect figure (which she has) by pushing as much food as possible into her thin flat belly as often as she possibly can….Anyway, I rattled off everything to her about the Mets/Cards game that I just rattled off to you, and I think she understood most of it.

      More importantly, thanks to “Soup” Campbell, I myself finally understood the significance of what I had just endured and received.  

      What good is being a Sports Philosopher if you can’t even teach yourself???

      In the end I guess I did learn something after all from my first Vegas road trip in many a year, or should I say I re-learned.   Re-learned a little something about baseball on the radio, about the I-15 Freeway, and about a couple of little things called memory and imagination.   It might take a little longer nowadays, but put ‘em all together and they will always, always take you all the way home….       

brad-eastland5meet….The Sports Philosopher!

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, undiscovered fictioneer, and terminal baseball sage— in no particular order.   Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written 4 novels and over 20 short-stories.    Samples of his best fiction work can be discovered within the links below :








  1. From the SPORTS PHILOSOPHER Mental Archive: Taking a Look Back at a New Yorkish Kind of Kentucky Derby….

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