Saturday, March 25, 2006

the "Elite Ate"

Have these March Madness games this weekend been unbelievable? As a UCLA alum I am over the moon thrilled. But the tourney on the whole, has been spectacular. Duke losing. Texas losing. Cinderella teams. Buzzer beaters. Only thing missing is Bonnie Bernstein. As we nail down the last two spots in this year’s Final Four here is a travelogue from a few years ago when I made my first March Madness trek to Vegas.



What a pathetic way of dealing with midlife crisis. I just got back from four days in Las Vegas where I sat in a sports book and watched 48 college basketball games. It's the first week of March Madness, the NCAA college basketball tournament. My friend Steve always puts together a group of guys to go for that first weekend. This is usually the same group that played poker the night of their senior prom and still have baseball card collections. How honored that I was invited this year.

I rarely go to Vegas. Can usually do about one day. Two if I'm lucky (and who's ever lucky in Las Vegas??) But being starved for entertainment and having just catalogued my baseball card collection I accepted.

Stayed at the MGM Grand. Was afforded all the personal touches one could expect from a hotel that boasted 10,000 rooms. Prices were determined by whether your room was findable. We arrived at about noon on Thursday and quickly headed down for the sportsbook. It was already packed. No chairs, much less tables. Big screens all around but almost impossible to follow even one game, or remember which game was on which screen. So now I couldn't find a chair, couldn't find the correct game, couldn't find my way to the elevator through the casino, and couldn't find my room. I had been in Vegas 45 minutes.

To insure this seating problem wouldn't happen again everyone in our group had to take a morning, get up at 5 and come to the sportsbook to stake claim to a table and chairs. And then wait four hours for the games to begin. I couldn't find the alarm clock either.

Of the 64 schools participating I really only cared about one -- UCLA. They got knocked out in the first round. (Fire Steve Lavin.) Now I'm supposed to get excited about Coppin State???

Each night after the games ended at about nine we all went out to a nice dinner. Most great US restaurants have a Vegas outlet. So we ate at Smith & Wollinsky's, Chinois, the Palm, and Gallaghers. It was either that or the Chuck Wagon Buffet. Amazingly, we spend twelve hours in front of nine screens, screaming and yelling and tearing our hearts out, slamming the table when we lose our two dollar bets and yet, later when we go out to dinner, everyone is just throwing around money, dropping hundreds like they were nothing.

Saturday night between the games and dinner the guys decided they had to see the Holyfield-Lewis fight on closed-circuit. So we went to the Orleans hotel (the elephant's graveyard for headliners. Melissa Manchester, Frankie Avalon, Captain & Tennille, probably the Cowsills, Karen Carpenter if she were still alive) and for a refreshing change -- sat in a ballroom on card chairs and watched TV...except we had to pay a tidy sum just to get in. If there’s ever a schmuck convention we’ll all be the first invited.

One of the guys in our group (who will remain nameless but you're on this distribution list and you know who you are) is the ultimate waiter killer. Four days and the rest of us were ready to kill him. We had to change tables in every restaurant, he sent back every order (sometimes twice), walked all the way across the casino (four miles) to return a cinnamin bun I had gotten him because there was frosting on it (like he couldn't just SCRAPE IT OFF!!) and almost brought a clerk to tears at Haagan Daz when he claimed she shortchanged him in his waffle cone. At that point me and one of the other sad sacks said we would punch his heart in if he didn't just take the fucking ice cream cone and move on. Yeah, that's how the MGM makes it money, skimming on the ice cream in waffle cones. I made sure I never ordered what he did because I didn't want them spitting in my food by mistake.

Sunday night finally arrived and we headed home. McLaren airport always had this wonderful feature -- recordings of stars telling you to use the people movers. I remember once hearing Totie Fields a week after her leg was amputated. The tradition remains but the level of stars has dwindled. This time I heard Judd Hirsch. Come on guys. Even the headliners at the Orleans are better than that. They couldn't get Vicki Lawrence to record a damn public service announcement??

I wound up breaking even, having a lot of laughs, unfortuantely bumping into a guy I knew in high school who is now an insurance agent and is calling me for lunch, and ultimately saying I was glad I went. But not enough to want to go again next year.


Anonymous said...

I was just there in Vegas myself for the opening of the NCAA games...hit a few 3-team parlays, but lost the straight up bets on some of my teams (including the NIT, which is where FSU ended up going...I HATE first round point spreads..) If it had only been about 10 degrees warmer, pools would have been kickin...

Anonymous said...

Hey Ken -

Another terrific travelogue.
In March Madness news -- I'm also a UCLA alum and am thrilled, thrilled that UCLA is in the Final Four. As of now, on your blog, I declare them as my favorite to win. Win, I say.

Go Bruins!
-- Pascia

Anonymous said...

I have to agree, this has been the best NCAA tourney in recent memory. Hardly a bad game or blowout anywhere and no #1s in the Final Four - that's fantastic. (And even better - my wife loves to watch the tourney!)

The George Mason/UConn game was incredible and since UConn's players all looked like pricks, I'm thrilled to see them out. It's like they and Duke just assumed they'd play in the finals and felt deeply insulted their opponents dare to play better.

I'm I'm sad my 'Horns went out, but they had a nice run. Good luck to the Bruins, but I have to say wouldn't it be amazing if GM won it all?