Hail Caesar!

Every March, a few buddies and I make the pilgrimage to Las Vegas for March Madness.  My friends and I call it March Badness.  It’s a four-day orgy of beer, basketball and blackjack.  We always come back with a lot of stories.  Normally, I stick to the “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” rule, but I think it’s OK to share this one.   

When we arrived at our hotel, Kurt Kitterman, gave each of the guys a special good luck charm.  It was a one-inch-tall Julius Caesar Lego toy.  Kurt instructed us to put Caesar in front of us on the blackjack table and it would surely bode well for us.  This was genius.  Why?  Because we were staying at Caesar’s Palace and how could you not win with Caesar on your side?

By 2:00 am on the third day, I’d kind of forgotten about mini Caesar. 

I was playing blackjack at Caesar’s, and I was kind of treading water, which means that I was winning a hand, then losing a hand, then winning, then losing.  Not making any dough.  But not really losing either.  Just drinking beer and laughing with Kurt and an attorney from Chicago, who was sharing a table with us and betting like he was representing Al Capone. 

Suddenly, I had a moment of clarity and realized something was missing:  Caesar.  I asked Kurt where his Caesar was and he said he left his in his room.  I reached into my front pocket and dug around for a minute.  Buried deep under two $1 Flamingo chips, a Bally’s chip, four Corona caps and a worthless NC State -4 betting ticket, I found my little plastic Roman Emperor.    

I pulled him out and placed him right beside my then dwindling stack of chips.  The dealer laughed and asked where I got it.  She’d never seen a Lego Caesar.  I told her that it was Kurt’s idea.  She dealt another hand.  I had a 14 and dealer was showing a 6.  Everyone at the table stayed.  Before she dealt herself another card, I bowed to mini Caesar and loudly chanted, “Hail Caesar!”  She dealt herself a King and busted.  Everyone at the table cheered.

The table had turned.  Now each time before the dealer dealt, I bowed to mini Caesar and chanted “Hail Caesar!” The dealer proceeded to bust 6 hands in a row.  We were on a roll. 

The attorney from Chicago was enjoying it as well.  He looked at me and said, “I want Caesar.”   I looked over at him, and he repeated, “I want Caesar.”  “What do you mean you want Caesar?” I said back to him. 

He looked straight at me and said, “I’ll give you $100 for Caesar.”  In an instant, I slapped the felt Shania Twain table, pointed at him and yelled, “Sold!  To the lawyer from Chicago for $100.”  He reached into his stack and tossed me a black $100 Caesar’s chip.  I slide Caesar across the table. 

Kurt gave me a look that said how could you possibly sell the gift I gave you?  Hey, it was $100.  And it was my biggest win of the night.    

I felt great about it until the attorney said, “I would have given you $200.” 

That is one of the 10,000 reasons I love Las Vegas. 

Hail Caesar!  

Already a Big Winner in Vegas

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a small obsession with Las Vegas.  OK, maybe it’s not small.  It’s a full-blown, over-the-top, stalker-type of obsession.  If Vegas was Jodie Foster, I’d be John Hinckley.  I absolutely love that city and want to be there as often as possible.

For me, as often as possible is once a year.  Every March, my friends Patrick, Jim, Kurt and I plan a trip to Sin City.  We schedule our visit around the first weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament.  It truly is March Madness for us.  Or as we dubbed it in 2004, the first year we went, March Badness.

Nothing rivals the anticipation for this trip.  Not waiting to turn 16 to get your drivers license.  Not waiting to find out if your first child is a boy or a girl.  Not waiting to hear if you got an ad into the One Show.  For me, this trip is Christmas in March.  

The problem is that even though we schedule it every year, I haven’t been since 2007.  In 2008, I cancelled because I had a shoot going on at the same time.  In 2009, it was on Easter weekend and last year I backed out because we were pitching the Bojangles’ business.

So it was understandable that my participation this year was greeted with a bit of skepticism by my friends.  The e-mail exchanges leading up to our scheduled March 17th departure all fell under the category of give Dave a rash of shit. 

On March 12th, Jim Doyle wrote:  “I notice Oakley hasn't backed out yet.  He's cutting it particularly close this year.  But, I have been on the phone most of the morning.  Perhaps he called you first this year??”

A day later Kurt chimed in, “Remind me again, does Oakley usually back out if the trip on Monday or Tuesday?  I can never remember…just want to set my expectations for the call.”

Kurt continued a day later, “I believe that David is on a rotating basis - and that each time he backs out closer to the actual departure date. I could be wrong, but I doubt it...”

Then it was Jim again: “Your memory is outstanding! I nominate you as historian of the group. It occurs to me that if this trend line continues David will have to actually go on the trip before he can back out of the trip.”

To each e-mail I responded the same way:  “I’m already a big winner in Vegas.  Details soon.”

Then on the morning before our departure, Kurt sends an e-mail entitled, “Seen at a Vegas Convenience store this morning.”  

It contained a photo of my face photo-shopped onto on a milk carton.  I have to admit, this was pretty funny stuff, especially for Kurt, who is an exec at Bank of America.  

So I gave him his props in an elaborate e-mail reply:  “LOL.  I’m already a big winner in Vegas.  Details soon.”

I was already a big winner in Vegas because of chance phone call two months earlier with my friend Scott Corbett.  He’s a director who lives in Los Angeles and I told him that I was planning a trip to Las Vegas.  Scott told me that his executive producer’s brother owns some nightclubs in Vegas.  He said he’d give him a call and maybe he could hook me up with something. 

I wasn’t expecting much.  At best, maybe some half-price tickets to the Donny & Marie show or something.  A couple of days later I got an e-mail from Joe Masi, Scott’s executive producer.  He asked how many were going to Vegas with me and where did we usually stay?   I replied that there were five guys and that we usually stay wherever we get the cheapest deal.  Usually Treasure Island.

A week or so passed and I got another e-mail from Joe that said, “How does a Sky Suite at the Aria Casino sound?  Completely comped.”

I immediately wrote back, “Don’t F with me.  Are you serious?

Of course I’m serious.  Anything for a friend of Scott’s.  I’ll send you a confirmation number in a few days.

I still didn’t quite believe it, so I decided not to tell any of my friends about it.  If I told them about it and it didn’t happen, it would suck.  But if I told them about it and I had to back out again, it would be much worse.

So I started coyly answering their e-mails, “I’m already a big winner in Vegas.”

Thursday March 17th finally arrived and as I was leaving the office, John Boone handed me $40 and said, “Put it on red when you’re feeling it.”  I thanked him then headed to the airport.  All I could think about was whether or not our suite at the Aria was really comped.  At least if it isn’t, I thought to myself, now I had $40 to go toward my hotel room. 

My cousin Brad and I got to the gate before the other guys and boarded the plane.  I had booked our two tickets with frequent flier miles about 6 months earlier.  The only thing available was first class.  Oh well.  Not only was I a big winner in Vegas, I was a big winner on the way.

We took our seats and just after the flight attendant brought us hot towels, Jim walked by on his way to coach.  The look of sheer disbelief on his face as I grinned and said, “I’m already a big winner in Vegas,” was worth every penny that I paid for the seats.  Oh wait, I got them for free.  Never mind.

As soon as the flight left the ground, a wonderful feeling of relief came over me.  I hadn’t backed out.  Something didn’t come up this year.  I was actually going to Vegas for March Madness.  And maybe, just maybe, I might have a giant surprise for my friends when we arrive.  

When we landed at McCarran, we disembarked with great anticipation and excitement.  We had made it to the land of blackjack, beer and basketball.  Brad and I waited for Jim and Patrick to get off the plane and then the four of us started walking to get our bags.

As we started down the escalator to baggage claim, something caught Jim’s eye.  “Hey look at that.  That limo driver’s holding an Oakley sign.” 

“Where?” I asked.

“Over there,” Patrick said and pointed to a guy in a full limo driver outfit holding a sign with the name Oakley printed on it.

When we got to the bottom of the escalator, Jim said to Brad, whose last name is Oakley too, “C’mon, let’s get your picture made with him.”

“OK,” I said and we walked up to the guy.

“Do you mind if we take our picture with you?” Jim asked.  “Their last name is Oakley.”

Brad and I stood on either side of the driver with the Oakley sign and Jim took the picture.  Then I asked the driver, “Who are you waiting for?”

“David Oakley.”

I looked at Jim and Patrick and said, “I’m already a big winner in Vegas.”

We followed our driver past the ½ mile long taxi line to a grey limo that was twice that long.  On the ride to the Aria, the limo driver told us that everyone who stays in the Aria Sky Suites gets limo service to and from the airport.  This explained why they asked me for my flight info when I called the Aria casino the night before.  Even then, I still didn’t truly believe that there was a room for us, until he parked the limo in front of the VIP entrance at Aria. 

We checked in and took the elevator to the 31st floor.  I slid the key card in and opened the door to room 3117.  One glance inside and I screamed, “I’m already a big winner in Vegas.”

This place was off the hook.  Ridiculous.  Incredible.  Simply put, it was the nicest hotel room I had ever seen.  Imagine the room in The Hangover.  Only without the tiger and Mike Tyson.

Let me pause for second to say that by writing this story, I may be breaking one of the world’s most sacred covenants:  What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.  But since I’m leaving out all references to our final hand of blackjack at The Mirage, Jim throwing his cards at the pit boss at the Venetian, Brad's 3 Korean hookers and Patrick spending a little too much time with the midget leprechaun at O’Shea’s, I think I’m OK.  Now that I got that out of the way, we pick up our story very early Sunday morning.

The five of us sat down at a blackjack table at The Mirage around midnight and at some point in the next several hours decided that we should stay up the rest of the night and go straight to the airport to catch our 6 am flight.  The reasoning was simple and Jim summed it up best:  “We can’t do this in Charlotte.” 

Some time around 3:30 am, we played our last hand.  We left the blackjack table at The Mirage and took a cab back to the Aria to pack up and check out.

As we were walking through the Aria Casino on the way to the elevator, Patrick said to me, “Did you ever make that bet for John Boone?” 

“I forgot.  I’ll just take his $40 home.” 

“You can’t do that.  That’s not good Karma.” 

“Yeah,” said Brad, “He wanted you to make that bet so you need to make it.  Let’s find a roulette table.”

“That one looks good,” Brad said as we walked up to a deserted roulette table.  The dealer, or spinner, I’m not sure what the guy who runs the roulette table is called.  Patrick called him Octavius.  “How ya doing, Octavius?” he said.  I squinted to read his nametag and damned if his name wasn’t Octavius.  I thought Patrick had made it up.  Anyway, I put two $20 bills on red.  Brad put five $5 bets on individual numbers on the table.  Octavius spun the roulette wheel and dropped the little white ball onto it. 

As the ball was bouncing around, I reached into my pocket and pulled out $30.  I dropped it on the table and said, “$30 on Red 16.”  Two things went through my mind as I placed the bet.  One, since I’m betting on red I might as well bet on my birthday number and two, the words of Jim Doyle, “You can’t do this in Charlotte.” 

I watched the wheel spinning around and the little white ball bouncing from one numbered slot to another.  Finally it settled in a slot.  As it continued it spin I could see that it was a red number.  “Oh yeah,” I exclaimed, “Boone won his bet!” and I high-fived Patrick. 

I looked back at the spinning wheel to see what the number was.  When it came back around, I screamed, “Holy shit.  Holy shit.  Red 16.  Red 16.”  Brad, Patrick and I were jumping around like we had won the Super Bowl.  And I had no idea what I had won.  Octavius put the marker on Red 16.  I asked, “How much did I win?”

“Your $30 bet pays 35-1, so you won $1050,” Octavius replied as he pushed a huge stack of chips over to me.  I looked at the stack of chips and said, “No thanks, Octavius.  I’m one and done.  Cash me out.” 

Octavius pulled the chips back to his side of the table and “Colored me up” as they say.  He handed me 4 chips.  A red $5 chip, a green $25, a black $100 and a yellow $1000.  I had never seen a $1000 chip before.

I gave the red and green chips back to Octavius as a tip.   

“Let’s go to the bar,” Patrick yelled.

“But first, you gotta get a picture of this,” I said as I put the $1000 chip in my eye.”

As Patrick snapped the photo, he pointed to me and said, “You, my friend…are already a big winner in Vegas.”