Vegas

The Sports Book room at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas

by Kyle K. Mann

Gonzo Today Publisher and Contributing Editor

Actually the acid came on well short of Barstow, near Victorville, and it was obviously a major overdose… no wait, that was the Vegas trip before this one, that was 2020 when I went to see Ambrosia.

The trouble with writing for Gonzo Today is the looming Ghost of Hunter S. Thompson. All right, we’ll ignore that and start over.

The trip to Vegas was boring. Well, mostly. I was alone, hot (I hate airco and seldom use it) and grumpy, if simultaneously mildly amused. I was driving to Vegas to bet a grand on the San Francisco 49ers to win the Super Bowl.

It was Saturday, September 9, 2023. The National Football League season would begin in earnest on Sunday. My mission was simple: bet the thousand bucks on the Niners to win it all, and get out. Well, after investigating the mysteries of sports betting at the MGM Grand. And maybe whatever else came up.

No drugs this time. Except booze, but not till I was off the road and on my feet in Vegas. I’d already smashed my ‘99 Honda Civic pretty good only a few days before, when I broke traction in the rain and skidded off Sunset Boulevard into a pole. (I’d been enjoying myself a bit too much at Oriana and Co.’s club gig, featuring Oriana with her killer guitar and lead vocals and the mighty Sierra Drummond on bass. Anyway…)

Wham! A powerful impact! I was stunned, however completely OK. The airbag hadn’t even deployed. But the Honda wouldn’t start at first and I was looking at a possible DUI arrest. I finally got the battered heap fired up, but the whole front end was shuddering as I headed back to Topanga. “What an idiot,” I laughed at myself. Not the best start to my Labor Day weekend. I stayed in on my home turf, trimming plants, weeding and staying out of more trouble.

I took the beater in to Woodland Hills next Tuesday, car shaking all the way, hoping all I needed was an alignment. Yeah right. On comprehensive examination, my mechanic was not amused. “You totaled it.” 

“What’s the damage?”

“We’ll have to replace…” So my mind glazed over as he listed a long line of parts. “We have everything except the spindle.”

“Spindle?” Here was a new one, I thought. Turned out it had to do with the wheel bearings.

“What’s the out the door price?”

He frowned and started adding up numbers, then looked at me sharply. “Including the new tires, a bit over four thousand.”

“Let’s fix it,” I laughed. No way I could get a better car in LA at that price. Even at 275,000 miles, the Civic’s meticulously maintained engine is still incredible. And fortunately I’d come into some money. There’d be plenty left over to gamble with.

Right?

Prepping the ‘99 Honda Civic for the Vegas run in the author’s driveway

I got challenged on the fast drive to Vegas a couple times by Tesla drivers, but my ‘99 Civic goes over 100 mph on demand so I mostly ignored the arrogant electric car drivers, who in any case usually get upset over 100 because their wives or girlfriends freak out. I held it to about 90. It was hot in Baker and I zoomed past, thinking of HST’s curious episode there in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Over a half century ago, I mused. Let’s get outta here.

I checked into the MGM Grand thankfully and dragged my wheeled suitcase up to the top floor. 

After shutting off the room airco (66 degrees, really?) and showering, I was ready to investigate the facility. Straight.

And it was a good thing. The transition from quiet safe Topanga to Vegas madness is not easy. I negotiated my way through the gigantic masses of slot machines, which were gobbling up bills as players slapped the play buttons. There were restaurants embedded among the flashing lights but nothing for an old vegetarian hippie. Not even a Jamba Juice. Wolfgang Puck, yuck. Mostly dead animal food. No way.

A flotilla of showgirls cruised past. Distracting, but all absurdly young from my point of view. They chattered happily, wearing little dresses and balanced precariously on four inch heels. I nodded, accepting being trapped in the body of an old white male. Keep moving, past the David Copperfield Theater, through the roulette wheels and craps tables. Mission, bet on the 49ers to win the Super Bowl. Lezzgo.

More slots. High roller poker room, keep going, they’ll eatcha alive son. A bar with live music, country rock. Pretty good stuff. `Hey these tables… Blackjack! I slowed down. I can usually grind a couple hundred outta The House in that game… but no, find the sports betting place. Wuzzit called? Ah, the Sports Book, right. Never been to one before. Chuckle! What a noob.

The Book was gigantic, a curved array of screens and odds on various games. I stared at it with awe verging on dismay. This was serious betting with serious people, mostly male. And older males too, some grimacing, others grinning, a few yelling at the dozens of screens. Above, a skybox for the high rollers. About 20 betting windows under the display screens. Surprisingly, I discovered that the entire room was a non-smoking space, which I highly appreciated. One of the huge perks of surviving to my 70s is witnessing the gradual banishment of those stinking tubes during my lifetime. Even in parts of Vegas.

I approached a betting window where a fit, well trimmed white-bearded guy regarded me with surprise when I confessed I’d never done sports betting before, but I wanted to bet on the Niners to win the Super Bowl. “What’s the line now?” He looked at a screen, typing.

“The 49ers are plus one thousand,” he explained. “We are cash only. If you bet a hundred and they win, you get 1,000 plus your original one hundred.”

“OK, I’ll bet a thousand.” I pulled out my wallet and forked over the money. He handed me a piece of paper that said BETMGM at the top next to the MGM Grand logo of the lion. STRAIGHT BET it said underneath. TICKET COST: $1,000.00 – TO WIN: $10,000.00 – TO COLLECT: $11,000.00.

I looked at the precious three inch by two inch betting slip curiously. “If you win,” the betting agent continued, “you have a year to bring it back to the window. Or, you can mail it in for payment.”

“If the Niners play in the Super Bowl, I’m definitely going to be right here,” I grinned. The agent nodded.

“Good idea,” he said with a friendly professional tone. “Any other bets today?”

“Not yet, need to think.”

He nodded again. “If you fold the ticket, do so with the writing on the inside. And good luck!” I took the advice, thanked him, and moved off, placing the slip carefully in my wallet. The Super Bowl was 5 months away, after all.

The MGM Grand struts their stuff when it comes to sports betting

I strolled back through the crazy slots and stopped at a machine that said Red Riding in big letters. It was a Red Riding Hood theme, with the Big Bad Wolf and Grandma’s House on the electronic rollers, including a scantily-clad Red. Oh what the hell, I thought, sitting in the seat provided for my comfort. A middle-aged waitress appeared at once. “Care for a drink?” She sounded Russian, or maybe Ukrainian.

“How about a Bloody Mary?” 

“Be right back.” I turned to the bright colorful screen, puzzled by the choices. Whatever. I put a ten dollar bill in the machine and punched the play button. A couple punches in, the game went berserk, making whooping sounds and flashing lights. I’d won a hundred bucks. 

I sat scratching my head. Really? Was it this easy? The waitress returned with my delicious-looking drink. “How much?”

“Is complimentary,” she stated firmly, cocking her head in surprise. I handed her the twenty I had ready.

“Well then this is for you.”

She squinted in surprise. “Is too much. I feel bad.”

Now I was surprised. “Take it, I just hit this.”

She shrugged, thanked me warmly, and moved off.

My betting weekend had begun.

The next morning, Sunday, I awoke from strange but optimistic dreams in my comfortable Vegas bed. I felt like beings had been speaking good words to me, but I couldn’t remember the conversation. I laid there, trying to bring it back. Well, no matter. Game day in Vegas! Get up, up!

In bed last night before sleep I had been studying the betting line on the individual games, using my iPad. I liked the Niners vs. Steelers in Pittsburgh. The spread was just a couple points, Niners favored. The kid, Quarterback Brock Purdy, had a lot to prove after his dreadful elbow injury, a UNL (ulnar collateral ligament) tear, in the NFC Championship Game last season. Purdy, who was the last pick in the NFL Draft and dubbed “Mr. Irrelevant” merely took charge of the contending San Francisco 49ers in 2022 after then-Niners Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was injured and nearly led them to the Super Bowl.

Hmm. Brock Purdy. 23 years old. A lot to prove.

I staggered to the shower. At this point the story gets weird. The spirit of my Goddaughter appeared and told me not to sweat the small stuff and just have a good time. 

Spirit Ana. Ok dear reader. How do I tell you this?

I haven’t written about Ana, who died two years ago at age 27 under dubious circumstances. I find it extremely difficult to write about her even now. I don’t have spirits pop into my life and talk to me like she does. Well, I didn’t until she Crossed Over. It’s a long complicated story, but suffice it to say that she speaks to me. Actual words. I get upset if she appears to me, and Spirit Ana has learned not to do that, at least not too often. It’s heavy enough to be spoken to.

So I’m in the shower, thinking about betting the Niners game. The game in Pittsburgh, not the season, right? Now remember, I already bet on the season, but am now thinking about the game. Ok. Maybe just a hundred bucks I think cautiously. 

She comes through more easily when I’m around or in water. “Nah. Keep going up.”

Hm. Spirit-guided sports betting. UHH, woah. This is seriously different. All right, maybe two hundred. 

Raiders? “Yeah, you like ‘em so bet ‘em.”

Uh hmm. Seahawks vs. Rams? “You don’t like Cheaty Petey.” This is true, of course. OOOOKay.

I shave, dress and walk the endless hall of the twelfth floor of the MGM Grand to the elevators. I have to place these bets by ten AM, well the Niners game at least, so I hurry through the slots crowds and get in line. The giant Sports Book room is packed. The guy behind me in line is pissed, yelling if the person in front doesn’t move quickly enough to the next open window. This character is anxious he won’t make it up to the betting window in time to place his wager.

I look in my wallet. Plenty o’ hundreds in there, so I’ll put 200 bucks on the Niners.

Spirit Ana: “Double it up.”

I laugh, seemingly for no point, annoying the irascible dude behind me who thinks I’m laughing at his dilemma. Still a couple guys in line in front of us and it’s only a few minutes before ten. OK Ana you wacky spirit. 400 then. I get up to the window, moving briskly. Still enough time. I bet the 400 on the Niners, and two hundred each on the Raiders and Rams. Silence from Ana. Maybe that’s an approval glow I detect.

The problem I have with interacting with her spirit is that sometimes it’s hard to know exactly where my thoughts are separate from her transmissions.

We are talking about communication with a spirit-being no longer wearing a body here.

There’s a lot more to this spirit stuff, but I’ll save it. To the skeptics, I’ll just say I’m perfectly willing to admit that it is at least possible that I’m losing my mind, driven mad from the knife-edge grief of losing someone extremely dear to me who died too damn young. Let’s leave it there.

Back to the seating area, and I manage to grab a comfy chair, order a Bloody Mary, and relax. Kinda. I just bet a lotta bucks! 

My head is spinning, looking around the crazy room in attempt to reconcile my general dislike of crowds with the fact that I’m going to be here for hours. But as I look around, I start nodding with approval. 

Kind of a wacky bunch, actually. Casually dressed, some in team gear in support of their favorite club. Sure, why not. And the Niner game is conveniently on the big screen in the center. 

The game gets going. The Niners stop the Steeler offense on their opening drive, including a sack. This means the quarterback gets tackled and dropped behind the line, demoralizing him and the entire team. Sacks are fun when they happen to a team you are rooting against.

“Sack!” I yelled, along with a number of other betting rooters, presumably from San Francisco. We laughed with good cheer. These are fans with motivation, I decide. I’m digging this already.

I pause to think about Hunter Thompson, and wonder what he’d make of this scene. Probably make himself right at home. Ok, let’s do this. Gonzo Publisher has fun. I’m wearing my only red Hawaiian shirt, the Niners team color, drinking a Bloody Mary and my team has the ball. Uh oh. Fourth down. Damn, but wait, are the Niners going for it at midfield! Gutsy call by coach Kyle Shanahan! It’s a pass to George Kittle, who was questionable with a groin injury during the pre-game week… Complete! First down! Love that Kittle.

This is entertaining. And potentially profitable too. I feel stuff shifting in my brain. Easing. This is good. Running Back Christian McCaffrey tears off a couple nice runs. Fine work that takes the Niners inside the ten yard line. First and goal, and the kid tosses it to Wide Receiver Brandon Aiyuk, the Niners first round draft pick in 2020. Touchdown! Now this is the way to start the season! 

The Steelers cornerback Patrick Peterson had predicted he would get an interception based on “tells” he claimed the Niners would give. Bwaaa haha! What a dork. Never give the opposing team bulletin board material, ya dummy.

Steelers ball. Kenny Pickett, the Pittsburgh QB who at 25 years is not much older than Brock Purdy, gets intercepted by Mooney Ward, formerly known as Charvarius Ward. The name change is understandable. Charvarius, too long. So Mooney for the pickoff of Pickett. The 49ers secondary looks good! Another big swig of my drink. Woo hoo! Looking good is good!

My Goddaughter spirit: “See? See? It’s OK.” She doesn’t really like football. But she’s watching it through me. That’s how I feel it, anyway. 

I’ve been a Niners fan for over fifty years. I vividly recall sneaking into Candlestick Park as a kid. Age 19, 20? I was crazy. With buddy Mark Tracy and the gang. We just assumed we’d get in. It helped that Candlestick was under construction, as the place was being expanded. My friends and I would make our own lunches because the food at the game always sucked. What cheap punks. We’d climb over the construction fence, paper bags in hand. We were usually chased, but never caught. 

Now, a half century later, Mark Tracy is, regrettably, dead, like a lot of my pals, and here I was placing my first-ever money bet on the Niners. They had won five Super Bowls in that interval. I’d never bet, what an idiot. But I did enjoy the wins. A lot.

One of those Super Bowls I had actually attended, the Miami game at Stanford Stadium. I went as a radio reporter for KFOX. Man, that was back in 1985. Boring game actually, the Niners slaughtered the ‘Fins. Wasn’t even close. My Bay Area friends all hated me for getting to go. That’s a long story. 

Hey it’s Aiyuk (pronounced I-uke) with another good catch. Field goal attempt by the Niners new kicker. He’s a third round pick, high for a kicker. He’s another kid, born in 1999. Kick’s up… It’s good! Niners are ahead 10-zip. 

Around this point I start feeling really good. A nice lead, a nice bet, so have more booze. Kettle One, the drink of champions.

I look over at the scoreboard. Arg, Bears are getting stomped. Poor (Gonzo Today Editor-in-Chief) Kidman. A Chicago native like myself, Kidman lives and dies with da Bears. Gonna be a long season for dem, looks like. I couldn’t bet on the game. Good call.

Second quarter. Deebo Samuel grabs a Brock Purdy throw, gain of 18. I grin. Purdy to Aiyuk in the end zone again… back foot is barely in bounds, ahhh…oooh… Touchdown! I guffaw. Patrick Peterson, Mister “tell,” eats it again. Double dork. 

Kick good, 17-0 lead for the Niners. The teevee cam cuts to laughing John Lynch, Niners General Manager and nine time Pro Bowl player who made over a thousand tackles in his NFL playing career. That’s one tough GM. Gotta respect that.

Steeler ball… sack by Drake Jackson. Dude is on fire! This Niner defense is smothering.

Another productive drive by the 49ers… oop, sack and a fumble by Purdy, saved though by him recovering by grabbing the ball under his butt. I roar with laughter. Unreal! The kid, Jake Moody, kicks it through the uprights and he’s 2 for 2 on his career. Niners 20-zip. I beam in high good humor. All is well. 

Well, you get the idea. Final score: 49ers 30, Steelers 7. Nice win! On to the Rams in L.A. next week.

Meanwhile, the afternoon games loom. The betting queue forms up, some guys laughing in triumph or anticipation, some silent in grim-jawed determination. I don’t have to wait in line. As you recall, I’ve already made my bet on the Rams to beat Coach Pete Carroll, my despised childhood enemy, and his Seattle Seahawks. And on the Las Vegas Raiders to beat the Denver Broncos. The latter is a popular wager. Many in line are sporting Raiders gear. 

I wait until the line is done and the games start up, then stroll to the window with considerable cheer. I beat Vegas! Yessss! The guy hands me 780-something bucks in cash. I could get used to this. Wow, Goddaughter spirit. Phew.

The afternoon games go well. The hometown Raiders, with former 49ers QB Jimmy G, smack down the Broncos. The betting crowd goes wild, and even I emit a growl or two of pleasure. And on one of the little teevee screens, I see Pete Carroll scowling. Good sign, I think to myself. Rams are kicking his butt, it turns out. I love it.

Final game of the day is the Dallas Cowboys vs. the New York Giants. I’m tempted to bet on the Giants because I hate the Cowboys. It’s a hatred that goes back to the 70s when the ‘Boys beat the Niners repeatedly in the playoffs. It wasn’t until 1982 that Dwight Clark would make “The Catch” from Joe Montana to finally beat the Cowboys in the playoffs and get the Niners dynasty rolling.

Hmmm I muse to myself. Maybe I should just go back to that friendly Red Riding slot machine. I finish my second or probably my third drink and go collect the bet money. Har har, Raiders win and I get paid. Reminds me of covering the Raiders for KFOX. Let’s grin and move on. 

HAR HAR on Pete Carroll and the Seahawks, mooshed by the Rams. Now this is rich, he loses and I win. Of course, he gets paid like a million for coaching the game. But knowing Pete, the proud win-at-any-cost creep who made a chunk of my childhood a nightmare, this is good therapy.

I walked outside to the Strip. It was hot and mighty strange on the street amid the jostling crowd. There was this thing outside across the street from the MGM Grand called New York, New York, made to look like the NYC skyline. I thought about going over there to check it out but decided it was too weird.

New York, New York in Las Vegas

Up to the room I go, to shower off the sweat. Cowboys game, bet it or not?

Ana-spirit “speaks.” “Dude, you’re in Vegas and you’re up. Bet it.”

I recoil. This is deep stuff.

I stick my head under the water. “Giants won’t win,” I mumble.

“They won’t. Bet the Cowboys.”

“Cowboys?!”

“Yeah, it makes sense. You Know it.”

It was true. I Knew it, cheesy capital K and all.

So I went downstairs and bet a couple hundred on the team I hate. Cowboys blew out the Giants in a total laugher. A shutout no less, 40 to zero. Never even close.

I went 4 for 4 as a noob Vegas better and drove home to Topanga the next morning with a fat wallet. Almost made up for that stupid car repair bill.

Ana was with me in the front passenger seat that I always keep clear for her. She loves road trips, you see. I was supposed to teach her how to drive, but we never got the right chance. I rubbed my jaw as we crossed the Nevada state line back into Cally.

“Is this what you meant when you said I had already won the lottery?”

A spirit laugh. Such a prankster. “I might have broken a rule or two.”

“Oh? Can we keep doing this? It’s fun.”

“Hmm I dunno, sorta hit and miss. Watch that truck, he’s weaving.” 

Cut to me a few days later finally breaking through writer’s block at home. I thought about this article, what it meant to me, how much I miss Ana in her physical being, how weird this all is, Vegas, 49ers, betting money…

And I thought about the day she died, two years ago now, her mom calling me screaming, my crazy drive in shock to Denver to Ana’s apartment building, getting the keys from the manager, and walking into her loveably messy rooms. Her body had been taken away of course. The whole couch covered with small bills, tip money from her waitress gig at Lucky Strike. Jars of coins. Her living room bed where she had expired of ”heart failure.” Her amazing paintings on the walls which were counterpoint to the canvasses she’d completed at my place. The Pfizer vax cards on her desk. 

Too shocked to feel grief yet, too numb to do anything except wash her dishes piled in the sink so they wouldn’t grow moldy. I approach her kitchen counter.

And I flash back to the day before, at my place in Topanga, in my kitchen, at my own sink.

There in Topanga she had suddenly appeared, an actual spirit, a ghost in full crazy humorous steampunk mode, flashing lights, semaphore arms, bubbling tubes of glowing liquid, whirring comic book gears turning… while I had been doing my dishes. Her words appeared in my brain. “Well I wasn’t expecting THAT.” Meaning her sudden liberation from physical being.

My knees gave and I almost fell down, too shocked to speak or even think. Her spirit looked through me.

“Don’t be sad.”

Abruptly I was enraged. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

A pause. “Well, don’t be TOO sad.” 

My rage faded. Through my grief and deep shock at beholding her intentionally zany-seeming spirit floating next to me, I dimly agreed this was good advice.

“But Kyle! Look at this!” I was plucked out of my body, like a momma cat grabs its kitten by the neck, and taken on the ultimate road trip to The Other Side. I viewed a million billion dimensions. “Look at this! And this! And this…”

“Wait, wait, I’m not supposed to see all this, I’m still wearing a body!”

“Oh… yeah. You’re right.” She let go and I was back, water in my sink still running, my knees still buckled and pressed against the counter, as shocked as a spirit wearing a body can be.

Life is just a day, my friends.

So there I am, after driving to Colorado, a day later in her Denver apartment, at another sink as I wash her funky plates and cups. I grumble humorously, amused by the incongruity.

Suddenly I notice with a blasting mind-crunch and gut blow that, waitaminnit! …she has hung a framed photo of Hunter S. Thompson on the wall above her sink, with the caption underneath:

“You better take care of me Lord, if you don’t you’re gonna have me on your hands.”

I knew that quote but couldn’t remember where it was from. And then the deepest grief hit, as I stood there in Denver, living in utter world-shattering forlorn loss. The only person left who was totally on my wavelength, dead. And I wept, sobbing in disbelief and outraged horror.

“But Kyle, I’m right here,” she always says.

Yeah. So here I am now, and as I wrote this article, back home from our triumphant trip to Vegas, now two years after her transformation… actually, as I finish up this article, finally busting through the worst writer’s block of my life, I again thought about that Hunter Thompson quote that Ana had framed and hung in her little kitchen. Where was it from?

Damn this occasionally cloudy memory. Suddenly, writing this article these last few days back from Vegas, it seemed important to know exactly where that quote she thought important enough to frame came from. So, I Googled it.

The answer, of course, was that the quote was from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

by Kyle K. Mann

Topanga

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

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About Kyle K. Mann 91 Articles
Kyle K. Mann is the pen name of a contributor to, and publisher of, Gonzo Today. He lives somewhere on the West Coast of the USA. A active recording musician since the 70s and radio broadcaster in multiple fields in the '80s and '90s, Kyle used to support himself starting in the 90s as a Union film crew member in Hollywood. His articles and interviews first appeared in Gonzo Today in early 2015, and some of them are fairly good.