Friday, December 26, 2008

I woke up to a surprise visitor at our door and Nanette & Brent laughed at me in my flannel pajamas. I'd be embarrassed, but it's 44 degrees, the coldest I think it's been here. And although it was 9:30 and I should've been up, I feel like these last 2 days of sleep are making up for months without it.

Especially this week. We started our vacation with our second annual Vodka Latke party. The latkes went like hot potato pancakes -- I wound up cooking 2 extra batches during the party (wearing an apron which is more embarrassing than the pajamas but less so than the dreidel antenna hat Adelphia wanted me to greet my guests with). I think everyone had a good time -- the fire was roaring, Tony Bennett and Klezmer music playing, people socializing, eating, drinking and I was sufficiently worn out for the next morning.

But there was no time to rest -- Vegas, baby, Vegas.

The drive to and from Sin City went fine, and I gambled like crazy and broke even. In fact, even my wife started to enjoy and understand craps and blackjack. Plus we had a few great meals and she got to explore the overpriced shops and our hotel had a nice view of the fountains at the Bellagio.

But that was about the only good thing about our hotel. Don't stay at Planet Hollywood. Why not, you ask? Where do I begin?

Our first room was dusty, had no towels in the bathroom, had stained sheets... on a bed lumpier than last week's oatmeal. So when we went back to check-in and asked for a new room, they were accommodatingly surly and gave us one that was half the size and reeked of cigarettes. Our third trip to the front desk got the manager to escort us to a room to make sure it had what we asked for, since we're so demanding as to expect a clean room that is truly non-smoking and consists of an actual bed and not a king-sized beanbag.

From there it was all downhill. We picked the hotel partially because it had a Trader Vic's. That's where my wife and I had our first date in Beverly Hills, although it's somewhat closed down there. We mentioned that to the waiter at the casino's version and he griped how theirs is nothing like that. The customers here know nothing, he said. When we asked for recommendations he advised us of the mediocre dishes on menu to avoid. I don't remember requesting what not to order. The food we did have was good but I was afraid our sour server was gonna commit suicide before the meal was over.

Planet Hollywood was also home to the worst buffet ever. I expect these steamer trayed entrees to be a bit bland in order to cater to so many people but this was ridiculous. How do you screw up scrambled eggs? Or make bacon taste like drywall? I saw other diners around us staring at their plates with disgust. Yeah, it's awful, but there's plenty of it. Adding to the unnerving experience it was the TVs lining the walls, showing informercials of reconstructive surgery. Y'know, where they interview a perfectly normal middle-aged woman with low self esteem and then display them "after" in a more pleasant background, with high-temperature, low-saturation lighting? Ahh, a meal and a show.

On checkout day, housekeeping pounded on the door every 20 minutes starting at 8 AM. And the complimentary valet service that they mentioned at the front desk? They might have mentioned that the waiting time was forty-five minutes. While I was trying to wait patiently, knowing it woulda been much faster to schlep our bags through the hotel & casino & around to the self-parking on the next avenue over, the drivers said this was nothing. Yesterday, the wait was an hour and a half. Why? Well, they have the cars in several different lots, they said. Where, in Laughlin? Reno?

And then there was the whole reason we went to Vegas. See, I was getting notices from Wells Fargo about a safe deposit box that belonged to my parents. I could've sworn that with all the craziness of my mother's stroke, and my father's death and moving Mom & Grandma to LA over five years ago, I had gone with my mother to deal with this. But it was so chaotic back then I couldn't be sure. And apparently, we still owned this box and I had to go to Vegas to empty it and close it out.

You might think this could've been exciting -- maybe my parents kept cash or jewelry in there. I know that sometimes my dad, who played the horses at the sportsbook, won big and took his winnings in casino chips rather than cash to avoid paying taxes on it. Then he'd just redeem some chips whenever he needed money. Perhaps there'd be the remnants of a big trifecta that, at the very least, could've financed my trip out there.

Most likely, it was gonna be empty like Al Capone's Vault. But like Geraldo, I had to check it out.

Whatta pain in the ass. This post would be twice as long if I detailed the ridiculous amount of effort I made to the bank to coordinate this. I didn't have the key, so they had to arrange for their vendor, a locksmith, to come and drill to get it open. They do this all the time. But the staff at this bank was overwhelmed with this task like we were breaking into Fort Knox and moved with the enthusiasm of the license renewal lady at the DMV.

I went out of my way to confirm what papers I needed, and that their vendor would be there when I arrived. (The first time I tried to set this up, preparing in early October for the weekend after Thanksgiving, it took 2 weeks of calling -- they never returned my calls, even the bank's manager -- to find out that their one and only vendor couldn't work that day.) I was sure that when I arrived at Wells Fargo, he wasn't gonna be there. But he was. He was a nice, competent guy. The bank, however, had no idea what they were doing. I needed yet a different form -- not the one they had me fill out in LA -- and it had to be faxed to and approved by their legal department. That would take a while. Sure, I have nothing better to do than wait around for your stupid mistake.

Neither did the locksmith. Oh, except for two other jobs. When he said he had to leave but would come back in two hours, I nearly went ballistic. But he had the decency to waive his fee. Yes, I was supposed to pay $125 for the drilling. You'd think the bank would eat the cost of this considering what fuckheads they were. So I took a deep breath and roamed around my parents' old neighborhood until they were finally ready for us.

Once I got inside the vault protected by high-security and low-IQs, I saw that the last time someone signed to get in there was my mom in May of '02. Yeah, that was with me. We had taken out some documents -- passports and birth certificates. What was left? Three empty envelopes, two stiff rubberbands and one paper clip. Score!

Oh well. We still had a good time. Now I think I'm rested up from it all. Plus Nanette was kind enough to move my wife's car while we were away and got a laugh in the process.

I'm gonna try to blog every day for this remaining week of the year, so stay tuned and see if I do better than my previous attempt. It'll be more entertaining than me in flannel PJs.


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