Gambler Paul
High-roller Paul, lounging at Bally's before breakfast

And low flying satisfaction

It was such a simple plan: Drive to Ontario, catch a Southwest flight to Las Vegas, gamble a bit, see a show, have breakfast, fly back, collect another free ticket.

That was the plan. The way it worked was: Drive to Ontario, find out my flight was cancelled, wait two hours for my "confirmed reservation" on a later flight, watch the scheduled departure of the replacement flight get later— and later— and later. To make a long story short, I could have driven to Las Vegas in about half the time it took me to fly there!

The whole flying experience is enough to make a person want to stay home — or take the train or anything that does not require going near an airport.

Take off your shoes. Take off your coat. Put your keys and your cell phone in a plastic basket to send through the X-ray machine. Take out your computer and put it in a plastic basket by itself. Keep your boarding pass out. Pray to Metallica, patron saint of detection, that you haven't forgotten anything that will set her off. Pray to Elasticum, patron saint of the bladder, for the ability to endure the wait through the line.

Pick up your coat. Pick up your cell phone. Pick up your shoes. Pick up your computer. Pull your roller-bag carry-on. Look for a place to sit and put your shoes back on. Damn! Where'd I put that boarding pass? Dash to the bathroom. Ahhhhhh!

Oh, for the good old days.

Ordinarily I would drive to Las Vegas from Palm Springs, having discovered the back route through the Mojave. But I needed to fulfill my requirements for a Southwest special promotion designed to lure infrequent flyers: book just two roundtrip flights online and complete the flights by 31-October to get a free ticket. This amounts to a "three for the price of two" sale. Not a bad bargain, since the free flight can be anywhere Southwest flies.

Connections cardBecause of the late arrival, there was no time to get tickets for a show. Food was the immediate concern to stave off a diabetic moment. I then headed for the machines, first making a stop at the booth to sign up for my Connections card. Supposedly this is a benefit: depending on how much you spend/lose you "earn" comps and dollars back. It also enables the casino to track your every movement through the casino and make sure you don't win too much.

The first machine I sat at paid off handsomely, doubling my stake in just a few spins. I presume this was to encourage me to keep going. But I cashed out and took my Connections card to another machine. As I feared, the random-number gods got even: that sucking sound you heard was my money going straight to the treasury of Caesar's Entertainment.

I had much better luck this morning after breakfast. In a short time I spun my $5 starting stake into $100 in cash vouchers, which I promptly cashed in. The gambling establishment has automated some of the more tedious aspects of gambling. First, machines don't take coins any more — folding money only, please! Second, instead of dumping out a pile of dirty coins when you win, the machines now print a paper ticket for the payout. Other machines accept these tickets as well as currency. Third, the trip to the cashier can be eliminated by sticking the ticket into a cash dispensing machine, not unlike an ATM. I can imagine these changes make a substantial difference in operating costs for the casinos, since they no longer need an army of people wheeling change carts around the casino floor, the counting and wrapping of coins is eliminated, and fewer human cashiers are needed as well. I also note they have cut back substantially on the cocktail waitresses who used to circulate constantly: Cocktail? Cocktail?

Waiting at LASSo now I sit at the Las Vegas airport, waiting for my flight. This airport is a perfect example of barely controlled chaos. Shuttles, buses, taxis, and limos jockey for position with wanton disregard for traffic lanes to drop a steady stream of passengers. The ticketing and baggage claim areas resemble ant farms with everyone pulling a roller bag. It is unbelievably congested, even compared with the major hubs, like Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, and Atlanta.

If I were a terrorist....

Which I'm not.