Sunday, October 02, 2005

Wild and Wooly Weekend

I am a huge fan of casino buffets. They are the sustenance choice of all degenerate gamblers who are overfed and nearly dead. I'm far from dead, but the more buffet meals I eat, the more likely I am to get there. Anyway, the highlight of my weekend was the opportunity to belly up to the trough without paying a dime OR risking hundreds of dollars in wagers for the privilege.

The Wedding
Friday night before my wife's friend's wedding and we do not yet have a gift. I am dragged to every man's worst nightmare: Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I bring along my $5 coupon so that my butt doesn't hurt so bad afterwards...we decide on a Corningware set that retails for $50. It comes with a $10 rebate, but the wife vetoes my plan of removing the UPC from the box so that we can claim it. What gives? They didn't pay for it AND they get the rebate?

Saturday we drive to St. Louis, a trip of about 4 hours, to attend the wedding of my wife's friend from high school who now lives there in University City, the neighborhood that spawned pop-rap giant Nelly. We check in at the hotel, and I shower, shave and get dressed. We stayed at the hotel long enough to catch the end of the Michigan-Michigan State game. Michigan pulls it out in overtime, 34-31. My buddy Jason from Nashville is thanking God right now even though I'm sure it's been a while since he's been to church.

We fly to the church like a bat out of hell. It's a Catholic wedding mass, so I've got the over on the ceremony taking an hour. Sure enough, it takes about 80 minutes. I'm not in the business of bashing the Catholic faith, but I dislike their weddings. Very ritualistic, very unromantic. Most men I know don't enjoy attending weddings, but these are especially difficult to sit through.

On the way to the reception hall, I am driving east on I-64 towards downtown when I encounter an off-ramp that has been closed. Road cones mark its closure and slowly jut out into my lane. Before I know it, I'm bearing down on them and trying to move left. The dude in that lane is driving a black Benz and won't let me over. I throw up my hands in frustration. He flips me the bird. Nice. Turns out, he's the husband of one of my wife's old friends who is attending the same wedding. We went to their wedding in February, from which I returned sick as a dog. They're doctors in Kansas City.

The reception is being held at this place in downtown St. Louis called the Thaxton. I'm not familiar with its history (perhaps it used to be an old hotel or restaurant). Now it's a reception hall. We're among the first people to arrive, and we help ourselves to the cheese tray and diet cokes from the bar before having to socialize with the dude who flipped me off in traffic. Now he's nice as can be (he doesn't know that it was me). Amazing how that works. I talk Chiefs football with him while another couple comes up. The male looks like Kenny G. I resist the temptation to ask for his autograph and talk about his domination of celebrity golf.

The Aftermath
We wind up blowing this gig early. The plan is to book it down to the Ameristar casino in St. Charles, which I've been told has an awesome sports bar in which I can watch the Vandy-Middle Tennessee game. By now it's about 7:20 PM and halfway through the first quarter. Before we can leave, our car has to be brought back from the valet lot. Unfortunately, the Cardinals game is letting out and traffic is a mess. Ugh. The car arrives and we jump in. Time to get out of downtown and back to St. Charles.

We are entangled in traffic and unfamiliar with the area. I pride myself on my sense of direction, but I wind up taking I-70 east instead of west. Now I get an up close and personal tour of East St. Louis, Illinois, which may well be the armpit of America. Yikes. We eventually turn things around. On to St. Charles!

With the casino in sight, I'm driving on the bridge over the Missouri River when we witness a car accident right in front of us, caused by a driver trying to change lanes into a lane that is occupied. The second driver has nowhere to go but the guardrail. There doesn't look to be anyone hurt, but I reach for the cell phone anyway. Since we live out of town, I have to ask the 911 operator for the St. Louis emergency dispatcher. Once I tell him my location, he has to transfer me to the St. Charles dispatcher (the county line being the river over which this accident occurred). I tell the same story twice. Eventually they agree to send someone, and we continue on.

The Ameristar casino is hopping. That's a bad sign. I should know better than to ever visit a casino on a Saturday night. I don't even want to play. In fact, I grew out of casino gambling quite a while ago. The city where I live has a boat nearby, but I never go. I just want to watch the game and eat something. The wife hasn't eaten a meal in nearly 12 hours and is beyond cranky. Unfortunately, the sports bar is standing room only and they're not letting anyone in. Apparently, there's a big fight on (Tarver-Jones) that is drawing a big crowd. You mean to tell me that these people are not there to see Vandy? There's nowhere else in the casino to see this game. We turn around and leave. Vandy is down 14-3 in the second quarter.

We would like to find another sports bar, but traffic is bad and everything looks packed. I'm royally pissed off, for being dragged to this wedding and not being able to see the game. Wife and I are arguing. We finally agree to go back to the hotel and rig up the laptop to hear the game broadcast over the internet. She goes back out for grub and returns with the tastiest cold Burger King burger I've ever eaten. I was so hungry that I wolfed it down, and I could have eaten another.

The Game
I nearly lost what I'd just eaten. Complete bullshit. Vandy laid down and let Middle win for the third straight time on our field. Beyond frustrating. I hate losing, and I took this one especially hard. That's all I want to say about this.

The Next Day
We got up this morning with the idea of hitting an IHOP for breakfast. FYI, there isn't an IHOP within 90 miles of my home, and none in the state whatsoever. Unfortunately, an online menu check reveals that they no longer offer what they'd been advertising for a few months: funnel cake with fruit topping. There went my desire. I round up some free Ameristar buffet coupons and we drive back to St. Charles.

It is noticeably less crowded on a Sunday morning. We redeem the coupons for buffet comps, but the buffet won't open for another hour and twenty minutes. We hadn't planned on playing, but there isn't much else to do in a casino when you're wasting time. Luckily, the Ameristar is loaded with penny slots and we sit down to grind it out. By the time we're ready to leave, we're up $4 between us. Not enough to make you quit your day job. AND, it takes 1550 units played on the penny slots to get one comp point. I did the math on that. To get one ticket to a crappy concert comped, you wind up risking $6200. Of course you won't lose all of that, but that's the dollar value of all the wagers you have to make to earn 400 points to redeem for a "free" ticket to a concert.

And you wonder why casinos are opulent places? Anyone telling you that they make their money back on comps is pulling your leg and lying to themselves about how much they gamble.

Anyway, breakfast is a lavish buffet brunch. Selections included normal breakfast items, omelet bar, prime rib and carved ham, grilled pork chops and peeled shrimp. I also saw and enjoyed chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes, an Italian food station with some decent pizza, and an Asian station with Mongolian barbecue. Good grub. There was more available than I had room for. And desserts...wow. Chocolate fondue fountain, cakes, pies, tarts, bread pudding, self-serve ice cream, cookies, you name it.

Yes, you can get a free lunch, it turns out. I would like to try another meal there before putting it in the same category as my favorite casino buffet: the Horseshoe in Tunica, MS. I know the spreads at the big resorts in Vegas are awesome, so I'm looking to try those next time I visit.

Final Thought
I'm home now and ready to head off, so I'll be back this week to talk football. I've got a lot to catch up on, having spent a Saturday away from the game. Don't ever trust a man who would get married during football season. Real men know not to force their friends and loved ones to choose.

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