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The worst thing that can happen to a man who gambles is to win.

-- Charles H. Surgeon

'Why don't you gamble?" David pondered his answer for the span of two exits. I was lost in thought and entranced by the rhythm of the road when he finally answered.

"Because I would lose."

"But what if you won?"

"Casinos are not in the business of losing. How do you think they fund those huge, amazing buildings and all the other shit that's in Vegas? By winning."

"I'm wondering what you think, because to me, gambling seems kinda...well, stupid," I said.

"Look, this is how I figure it." David always begins with the word "look" when he's about to explain something. "There are times I've gambled for entertainment, but I've never been foolish enough to try and think of it as a money-making opportunity. To some people, it might be worth 50 bucks an hour for the fun of it."

"I can think of 50 things I'd rather do with 50 bucks," I said.

David nodded in agreement. "So you see what I mean? Gambling is all about probability, and the probability says that you're going to lose. If I'm gambling with the thought that I'm going to make money, it ceases to be entertainment; that's why you see all those grim faces in the casinos. They're not being entertained; they're trying to make money, and for the most part, they're not."

Business had brought David to Vegas six times in the past 20 years. I'd been twice before (not counting a family vacation when I was 12). The first was for my sister's bachelorette party, the second for a swank bash thrown at Caesar's Palace by a friend of a friend.

This was my first -- and probably last -- trip to the desert city with David. We checked into a resort hotel located ten miles from the famed strip that is the world's epicenter of bling. As one who prefers quiet elegance to vulgar displays of razzle-dazzle, David would never have agreed to go to Vegas if it were not for Ollie, who insisted on celebrating his birthday in Sin City.

The hotel room was to our liking, containing the prerequisite two-person soaking tub and rainshower head within an immense bathroom. While investigating a few of the nine restaurants the resort had hidden among 50 acres of land, David and I stumbled upon a labyrinthine casino.

I stared down one aisle between two rows of slot machines. Pulling David close, I whispered, "Don't they all look really sad to you?"

"It's because they're not interacting with each other," said David.

"A creepy image just came to mind," I said. "This is like some kind of hell, and all of these people are isolated at their own personal hell machines that suck positive energy. Look at their faces: so dismal. The machine depletes them of happiness and rent money, leaving these withered wretches with nothing but a desperate sense of hope that they can somehow beat the machine at its own game." I was reminded of the machines that feed off human energy in The Matrix.

It was 2:00 p.m. on a warm, sunny day, and the stale, smoky, clockless room with a carpet designed to hide stains was filled with ashen, wrinkled faces. Was the golf course overbooked? Or could it be -- and I hated to consider this option -- that hanging out with a drink and a smoke while methodically feeding slot machines was the primary choice of activity for these people?

We got some cash at an ATM that only spit hundred-dollar bills, exchanged those hundreds for something smaller at the cashier's counter, and skedaddled. Once outside, I took a deep breath of fresh, smoke-free air, savoring the scent of jasmine and petunias.

"Is it me, or has everyone we've encountered thus far had that Midwestern quality about them?" I asked David while we waited for a taxi. "I get a distinct sense of middle America. I had no idea this was a destination for anybody outside of L.A."

"The shows bring people from all over," David pointed out. I had my heart set on seeing Cirque du Soleil's O but, as my friend Mikey V. might say, it wasn't in the cards.

"Look," began David (I decided I had time to sit and rest my feet when I heard the telling word), "rather than take a trip to New York City, maybe these people from the middle of nowhere feel more comfortable taking a trip to the theme-parked version of New York City. Everything here is packaged for entertainment."

I was slightly distracted by a woman who walked by, covered in nothing but gold from her bleached-golden hair to her glittery, golden heels.

"Whereas, if you go to the actual cities," he continued, "you have to cope with more -- they have businesses other than entertainment; it takes a lot of effort to create an itinerary. And of course, there's always the Faustian allure of winning big at the blackjack tables."

David's fastidious research habits complement my neurotic need for planning ahead. Neither of us is lazy when it comes to creating the perfect vacation. This was a different kind of trip for us, however, because aside from booking the hotel, we had no plans.

Friday night, when it was apparent that our cohorts would be arriving into town later than we thought, we ended up dining at Rosemary's, the restaurant I chose from David's researched list of options. After dinner, tipsy from wine and satiated by tasty tidbits, we relaxed in the tub, prepped with David's special blue liquid bubble bath from Germany. We were both blissfully asleep before 10:00.

Saturday, we learned that the birthday boy and the rest of the crew had partied till the break of dawn -- the exact same thing I would have done before I began dating a straight-edged man and gave up drugs out of sheer inconvenience.

Going with the flow -- which is a new thing for me -- we joined Kip, Renee, and Mel on a journey to the Hilton, a.k.a. Star Trekker's Paradise. The ladies were, as one would expect from a night full of spastic revelry, exhausted. Kip, on the other hand, was surprisingly vigorous -- after years of friendship, the man's resilience still amazes me.

The rest of the afternoon, as everyone slept off the previous night's hangover and rested for the night ahead, and while Ollie and another friend threw dice all over the casino at their downtown hotel, David and I walked until the brim of my floppy red hat was damp with perspiration. From Paris to the Venetian, we sidestepped offers of free shows and lodgings; climbed over tourists, guards, dealers, players, and loudly bleeping, brightly blinking machines; and stopped here and there for a drink and people-watching.

At 9:00 p.m. we were stuck in traffic on the Strip. David took photos of the colorful Jumbotrons while I cursed at the driver of a Hummer-limo.

"This is worse than the Gaslamp on Saturday night," I said.

"I hate Las Vegas," said David.

"We could have seen a show," I said, wallowing in the fact that we killed six hours waiting around for others instead of following our own itinerary.

"I thought we were doing dinner tonight. Isn't that the plan? Everyone's getting together for dinner?"

As if on cue, Kip called to inform us that the birthday boy was hungry only for more dice throwing and the rest of the crew was about to head down to the Strip -- the same Strip that had left David and me stunned, overstimulated, and cranky.

"What now?" David asked when I got off the phone.

"Now we're going to go back to our hotel and do some gambling. I've got a hunch that this is my lucky night."

"Oh yeah? Then you'll probably be able to tell me the odds against me joining you."

"On second thought, why don't we break into one of the bottles of red you brought along and bury ourselves in bubbles?"

"Now that sounds like a sure bet," said David. n

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