Category Archives: Uncategorized

Month of Thanks, Day 12 (2019)

November 12, 2019

Earlier today, I met with a student who asked “why do I have to take these classes?” We talked for a while. I explained my perspective on a liberal education. I was honest. Some classes will mean more than others. Everything is designed intentionally but we, as learners and students, are not all the same. A class that impacts one person deeply may not have the same effect on the next. 

A few hours later, I was scrolling through Facebook and I found an article (link below) about Pedro Zamora (1st person openly living with HIV and AIDS on TV) Today is the 25th anniversary of his death. It reminded me of the day I learned the power of a college education.I didn’t know it at the time. It wasn’t until years later that I understood what had happened. 

Queer Meant Something Different

Pedro Zamora died on a Saturday. The Wednesday after Pedro died, I was in Dr. Blackmer’s literature class. English 213, American Authors. This course was one of the reasons I ultimately pursued majoring in English. We were reading Allen Ginsberg and Dr. Blackmer recited the poem “America.” As she read the last line, “America, I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel,” her voice cracked and she dismissed us and I’ll never forget the way she said, “I’m sorry but I can’t continue anymore today.” Walking from class over to the the student center for lunch, I thought about the poem and the word “queer” kept circling my mind. I kept thinking about the ways I had used that word amongst others that no longer made sense. It was the first time that I thought that someone I knew was really “queer” and how words can move us. I was moved. I was moving in a haze.

I can still see myself sitting in the student center with a steak and cheese, fries and a coke wearing a flannel inspired by the grunge era, a Southern baseball cap and black wannabe Doc Martens boots. On Wednesdays, Programs Council would host programs during lunch. I miss the beauty of a captive audience not swimming in smartphones or deafened by airpods. I’d politely listen while I ate my lunch or attempted to study between classes. But that day would be different. Pedro’s Real World cast-mate Judd Winick was the lecturer. Like so many teenagers, I didn’t miss an episode of MTV’s Real World. This was when reality television was really “seven strangers…chosen to live in a house to see what happens when people stop being polite…and start being real…” This was before reality television was nothing more than typecast caricatures living out their semi-scripted lives. Judd and Pedro were part of a cast that were living their real lives in San Francisco at a time when the world was still terrified of the word AIDS and you may have known one or two people that you thought might be gay. Judd spoke passionately about Pedro’s life and his dedication to raising awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and what it meant for Pedro  to be an openly gay man on reality television in the 90’s. Judd was drenched in grief and pouring his soul onto a cafeteria floor in front of a mixed bag of college kids who were either hanging on his every syllable or whispering in between slurping soda and crunching on chips. 

I don’t remember picking up my green Nike book bag, walking to my next class or even what class followed but I remember the walk back to my car that afternoon. For a moment– just a moment– Ginsberg’s poem. America, Dr. Blackmer, Judd Winick, the Real World, Pedro Zamora and the word “queer” all meant something different. And, I didn’t know why. I wouldn’t know for years.

Vegas 26: Go Knights Go!!

April 7- April 12


While the trips keep getting better, we are now entering a stage of being harder to impress. That isn’t to say that I am less passionate about Vegas just a lot more comfortable in my excitement. I’ll continue to watch countless fountain shows but now I’m much more critical. On this trip, we didn’t venture out very far from the Bellagio with the exception of a journey to the Neon Museum for the new Brilliant experience. My first review captures the essence of our trip.

The Second Best Part of Vegas 26: Beauty and Essex

The absolute best part of Vegas 26 was going to see the Golden Knights in their first play-off game which also happened to be my our NHL play-off game. On Sunday night, Anne and I went to Beauty and Essex in the Cosmo for what was one of the best dining experiences we’ve had in Vegas with a horrendous ending. First, let me say that we will absolutely return.

Beauty and Essex has the ultimate hipster vibe. You walk through a fully operational pawn shop before entering a dark, sparkly and velvet covered restaurant. The music played just loud enough to be noticeable but not so loud to disrupt a conversation.

Our server was fantastic. Well, mostly. Anne ordered a glass of wine and I had a beer. The three items that are worth noting were the deep-fried tai shrimp, barbecue fried and the burrata and tomato on toast. All were excellent. My favorite shrimp is Emeril’s New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp. The deep fried tai shrimp is a close second. Not breaded, crispy on the outside and cooked perfectly on the inside, I would easily have ordered more. Anne is a connoisseur of French fries and she was very happy with the barbecue fries. She describes them as like eating really, really good barbecue chips but exponentially better. I wasn’t as impressed with the burrata and tomato. The burrata wasn’t all that creamy and the tomatoes tasted a bit like ketchup. The focaccia was great! I peeked over at a couple enjoying the ceasar salad toast which looked like a much better play.

At the end of our meal, we were relaxed and enjoying the vibe of the restaurant. In looking at the gluten free menu and reviewing it with the server who made some fantastic recommendations, we settled on two cappuccinos and the tiramisu ice cream sundae. I can’t recommend this dessert enough. The espresso ice cream was light and flavorful, covered with rich chocolate powder and chocolate nibs and a flavorful cake base. Wait? Did I say cake? We were halfway through the dessert when I took a bite of the cake and said, “this is not gluten free.” One of the servers came over to check on us and when we made her aware, she immediately reacted. Moments later the manager came over. Before we could even explain, he apologized, comped our meal and asked Anne how she was feeling and if he could do anything for her. It was so unfortunate because everything was so great. He gave us his card and asked us to call him if we return in the future but understood if we wouldn’t be back. Fortunately, Anne was only slightly impacted the next day. We will definitely return.

 Hotel Review: Bellagio

 The Bellagio just isn’t what we wanted it to be but is exactly what we expected. The property is congested because of the tourist traffic. The pool complex is large and nice enough but lacks any privacy from the tourists walking through the resort. The room is fine but is starting to show its age. The casino was incredibly kind to me! Finally had a very nice run on the slot machines. We ate at Harvest and Prime which we fabulous. The most disappointing aspect of the Bellagio was the service. We were mistreated on several occasions including a front desk associate who, when my wife complained about the music coming from the one of the clubs, was told to “get some earplugs from the gift shop.” And the next day when we spoke with one of the supervisors was told that we were “ in Vegas” and continued by saying, “what do you expect.” This type of treatment continued in several areas of the hotel including a security supervisor being incredibly rude and disrespectful to an elderly couple at the pool for being in Cypress (VIP pool). The couple didn’t understand at first and were berated. We shared our experience with Joe, a manager, who did an outstanding job of listening to everything. He kindly removed one night of charges and sent us a bottle of champagne and strawberries for our troubles. It is as if the Bellagio relies on its name but forgets that they need to continually earn their guest’s loyalty. We will go back to the restaurants and maybe to play but I don’t see us returning to stay there unless the deal is just too good to ignore.

New Experience: Brilliant at the Neon Museum

We loved the Neon Museum and when we heard that they had a new feature, we bought tickets right away. The Neon Museum features a collection of over 200 retired and restored neon signs from Las Vegas. Brilliant is a new feature created by artist Craig Winslow which utilizes many of these signs to capture the history and spirit of Las Vegas. A story told through music and cutting edge technology called “projection mapping” brings the signs to life. Vegas geeks like my wife and I will certainly enjoy the experience. Watching Liberace projected onto a neon sign of a piano as if he were playing once gain is surreal. I don’t know if most people would be as entertained or interested but if visiting the Neon Museum, I would recommend seeing Brilliant.

Aces of Comedy at the Mirage

The Terry Fator Theatre is a fantastic venue. We’ve now seen Terry Fator, Boys II Men and Ray Romano featuring David Spade there. One of the reasons I love Vegas as much as I do is that I don’t know of any other four-mile street (the Las Vegas strip) where you can have dinner at a Gordon Ramsay restaurant at 5pm, see Celine Dion at 7pm and Ray Romano at 10pm if you wanted. While the sets were shorter than we expected, the show was worth the money. Spade and Romano both delivered and even took the stage together at the end of the show for some Q and A. If given the opportunity, we would love to see George Lopez, Kevin James and many others who are featured at the Mirage.

Golden Knights: The Best Part of Vegas 26

This trip featured a lot of luck. The casino was kind but even more lucky was the fact that the Las Vegas Golden Knights played their first every play-off game on Wednesday, April 11th vs the LA Kings. Anne and I decided to be VGK fans the moment that the NHL announced that Vegas would have a hockey team. As a Yankees fan, I’ve been spoiled by lots of winning in my lifetime. This is different. The fans are still learning how to be fans. The city is figuring out what this means. The team and venue have done an awesome job in building a culture and winning certainly helps. In a closely contested game, the crowd stayed engaged throughout all three periods and the arena was explosive. However, until you’ve experiences some real hard losses and drama, you can’t find your intensity as a fan base. Conversely, I know this pain too well as a long-suffering Buffalo Bills fan. As both a Yankees and Bills fan, I can attest to the tension and anxiety that comes with each and every pitch or snap. I LOVE being a Knights fan but like the rest of the fans, I’m just happy right now. The pain will come and that’s when Vegas will learn what kind of fans they will be. Sitting in the “Fortress” for the first play-off game was a true “once-in-a-lifetime” experience and I’m grateful to have been a part of it. I didn’t need another reason to love Vegas more but as luck would have it, I certainly found one. Go Knights Go!

Vegas 27

Coming August 2018!

Back home. Back to Aria.


Catching Up: Vegas XXII- XXV

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I thought I would update my trip log. These aren’t full reviews of any shows, resorts or restaurants but include some of the highlights from our most recent rips.

Some of the highlights and how I would grade the experiences:


Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. at TI- B

Michael Jackson ONE- A+

Penn and Teller- C+

Blue Man Group- B+

Venetian Gondola Ride- C+

X Burlesque- B

Golden Knights Game- A

Adam Sandler at the Chelsea- A+++

Restaurants and Bars

Mon Ami Gabi- B+

Chandelier Bar- A

Maestro’s in City Center- A

Julian Serrano’s Lago- C


Aria Tower Suites- A

Renovated Room at Park MGM- C+


Game of Thrones- A

Dragon Spin- B

Bette White- B+

XXII- Aria, August 5, 2016- August 10, 2016


We had another wonderful stay at Aria. We checked out the Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. at T.I. As Anne and I both really enjoy all of the Avengers films, it was worth the price of admission ($35 per entry) to see some of the memorabilia from the films. The “experience” had some sort of story line and we had to use an app on our phone to navigate the different stations but we were more interested in seeing all the displays. The highlight of our trip was going to Michael Jackson ONE at Mandalay Bay. We purchased tickets through the concierge and received a moderate discount. Immediately after the show, we both agreed that it was the best Cirque show and that it may have been our favorite Vegas show. The show did an outstanding job of weaving the history of Michael’s career through a series of engaging vignettes. The best seats are not in the first eight rows. We were seated further back but, as it was explained to us, in order to fully enjoy the show you need to be able to see the entire stage as the performers utilize the space on, above and to each side of the stage. In some ways, the show is like a series of complicated music videos that put you at the center of the action. For even casual Michael Jackson fans, this will be the Cirque show I most recommend. A+

XXIII- Aria, April 8, 2017- April 13, 2017


We once again had the opportunity to meet Giovanni and Matt! Vegas with friends truly makes the experience even greater. One of our highlights was having breakfast at Mon Ami Gabi. We had wanted to dine there for years but never found the right opportunity. While we didn’t get to enjoy outdoor seating and the Bellagio Fountains, we had a wonderful breakfast. The food was much better than I expected. I enjoyed a fantastic Bloody Mary which was a meal itself. For other firsts, we finally made it to the Chandelier Bar at Cosmo before dinner. I think Anne enjoyed it more than any of us even though she only had her standard Pinot Grigio. I, on the other hand, had the Verbena. The Margarita-esque drink is enhanced by the Verbena flower which, as the server thoroughly explains in her directions, is to be chewed extensively before taking the first stip. The flower causes your tongue and mouth to feel slightly numb and tingle and the flavors of the drink really pop. It is awesome. After a perfectly fine dinner, we went to see Penn and Teller at The Rio. Overall, the show was somewhat disappointing. We saw them years ago when they were on tour. Maybe our expectations were too high but I found the show underwhelming. I was glad to have seen them and I think it is great that Penn stays after the show to take pictures (for free) but I think I expected to be “wowed.” We were sad to see Gio and Matt leave the next day but were happy to spend some quality Vegas time with them. Lastly, Anne and I finally went to Maestro’s in City Center. Overpriced? Absolutely. But, we have every intention on going back. I think we would be more likely to order appetizers and sides instead of hunks of meat and fish. We loved the spinach, shoestring potatoes and asparagus. And, the Warm Butter Cake is one of the greatest dishes I’ve ever tasted. I dream about it.

XXIV- Aria Tower Suites, August 4, 2017- August 8, 2017


As a special treat for Anne’s 20-20 celebration, we booked a Tower Suite. She and her best friend Mandy went a few days ahead to enjoy some quality BFF time. Her husband Rob and I joined a few days into the trip. After a horrendous flight experience, Rob and I made it twelve hours later than we were scheduled to arrive. First, the Tower Suite is spacious, has a lovely view, the bidet is amazing and the staff tends to your needs just a little more than they do in the standard rooms. What we enjoyed the most was the Tower Suite Lounge which is open very early in the morning until after midnight. They keep the refrigerator stocked with soft drinks, the coffee fresh and snacks plentiful. They serve soft pretzels in the afternoon! At the right price, the upgrade is worth it. In what will surely become a show we will confidently recommend, the Blue Man Group at Luxor was impressive. We sat in the second row just outside of the “splash zone.” The show, which I find hard to describe, is a non-stop combination of bass-filled and thumping music combined with lots of non-verbal comedy. We left feeling like we were in Vegas. We also finally took the gondola ride at The Venetian. You can either choose the inside or outside canals. We floated outside. Anne found the ride a bit too short (maybe 15-20 minutes). I liked it but didn’t love it. We were glad we did it but won’t be rushing back anytime soon. It won’t become something we highly recommend. Lastly, Bette White paid me big!! On our last night, I was down a bit and was ready to call it a night but caught the Golden Girl staring at me while I enjoyed a slice of Five 50 pizza and a Fat Tire beer. I sat down and she treated me like Blanche would treat her many male companions—very kindly!

XXV- Monte Carlo/Park MGM, November 16, 2017- November 20, 2017


This was one of my favorite trips. We booked the trip specifically to see the Golden Knights as Anne and I thought, since we loved Vegas so much, we may as well become VGK fans. I flew out on Thursday. I went to Julian Serrano’s Lago at Bellagio for dinner. I wanted to love it and didn’t. The Italian Tapas just didn’t do it for me. I had the polenta which is normally one of my favorite foods but I found it too rich but not flavorful. I made the mistake of ordering the seafood bucatini which is hollowed out linguini. I learned that I really don’t like bucatini. It was an incredibly high priced meal that just wasn’t worth it. I also checked out X Burlesque at the Flamingo. It was lively, fun and would recommend it if you’ve already seen Fantasy at Luxor.  Anne landed in the mid-afternoon on Friday and we had a full evening highlighted by seeing Adam Sandler at The Chelsea in Comso. At some point I’ll really need to write a full review. Adam Sandler hits the perfect tone of humor and heart and the venue was very conducive to his delivery. This was one of my all-time favorite Vegas nights. A few days later we went to see the Golden Knights and LA Kings. Like the Adam Sandler show, I hope to write a full review. The game exceeded my expectations. Coming from someone who has been to his fair share of professional sporting events, I was impressed by the overall experience. Lastly, we stayed in a recently renovated Park MGM room at Monte Carlo. While it was new and clean, we are not looking forward to returning. The room is incredibly small and basic. The “wellness” features made no difference. Supposedly the shower water is infused with Vitamin C and they pump some cleansing air into the room. I’m not sure about any of this. I just know that the bathroom wasn’t much bigger than the closet which we also thought was much too small. The bed was about six inches off the ground and I found it uncomfortable. As for gaming, between the sports book and the slots, I just about broke even. Some of my favorite machines have been Dragon Spin and Game of Thrones. If you are a GoT fan, you MUST give this machine your money and hope for a few bonuses based on the show’s most popular characters. And, nothing is better than the in-game dragon bonus. Dracarys!!!!!


Vegas Eve: Reflecting on the First 21

Vegas Eve

holidays2010 174

As much as I love holidays, celebrations and milestones sometimes I think I enjoy the anticipation more than the actual experience. Granted, my birthday is Christmas Eve so I think anything with the word “eve” in it is special. The night before is filled with the hope and promise of what is to come. Whether it’s the night before Thanksgiving and the thoughts of turkey, pies and football or Draftmas Eve (the night before your fantasy football draft) with the anticipation of having your top picks fall into your lap, it’s exciting to think about what could happen.

In just a few days, I’ll be packing and preparing on my 22nd Vegas Eve. I looked for my magical list of each trip so that I can take a stroll down the memory strip but it has disappeared. It must have happened in the transition between iPhones. I’ll attempt to recapture this list in a blog post that will be captured for posterity on this site and in a few other places.

Vegas I, December 31st, 2000- January 3rd 2001, Imperial Palace- Our first trip was for our honeymoon. This was the first time we went to an Emeril’s restaurant. We went to Emeril’s Fish House at the MGM Grand. We had a nice conversation with an older couple who were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. I enjoyed the New Orleans BBQ Shrimp that the more experienced husband said, “I hope you look at your wife the way you look at that shrimp in 40 years.” Classic.  Click here for story.

Vegas II, New Years Eve 2002, Hard Rock Hotel/Amerisuites- We stayed at the Amerisuites across from the Hard Rock. It was the one and only time we stayed off the strip. We saw our first Cirque show, “O,” which was amazing. On New Year’s Eve, Anne and I were enjoying coffee at the Hard Rock while people were getting wild. Our first Vegas regret was not springing for Red Hot Chili Peppers NYE tickets.

Vegas III, July 2003, Treasure Island– Our first summer trip is when Anne and I discovered that we enjoyed the pool life. This happened almost accidentally. I was determined to be the ultimate tourist and explore every nook of Vegas. We were in Mandalay Bay which is as far from Treasure Island as you can get. Anne and I stopped at Starbucks where she said, “I don’t want to run around. I just want to relax.” I was fine with that as long as she understood that I wanted to come back to Vegas frequently. She did. We’ve been back almost every year since.

Vegas IV, December 2007, Planet Hollywood- This started out a disaster but turned into one of my favorite trips. We had an unbelievable view of the Bellagio fountains. Click here for story.

Vegas V, July 2008, MGM Grand- I would categorize this as our first true “pool” vacation. MGM Grand was nice but the pool was so far from the hotel elevators.

Vegas VI, July 2009, Mandalay Bay- We really enjoy Mandalay Bay. We split this trip into two parts. We started out with a group of 11 of us that spent a few days together and then Anne and I drove to Anaheim where we went to a few Angels/Yankees games and then came back to close out our trip in Vegas. All of this while UFC 100 was going on.

With Frank Mir.

With Frank Mir during UFC 100 weekend. He got crushed by Brock Lesnar.

Vegas VII, July 2010, Aria- The first time at Aria which would become our resort of choice. Great rooms, restaurants, pools, service, location, etc..

Vegas VIII, December 2010, Mandalay Bay- We finally landed in Vegas on Christmas day. We spent Sunday in the Mandalay Sports Book which has become one of my favorite Vegas experiences.

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Vegas IX, February 2012, Aria– Our first excursion off the strip was to the Red Rock Canyon. A beautiful place to visit.

Vegas IX 114

Vegas X,, July 2012, Bellagio– We finally stayed at the Bellagio which was slightly disappointing. While the service is outstanding, the room wasn’t as nice as I expected. I was able to meet the Bellagio social media team. My primary complaint is having to stay at a resort that is always flooded with tourists. Click here for story.

Vegas XI, October 2012, Mirage– My first trip without Anne. I went to a conference in Vegas. It was the first time I was able to show students Vegas. Education never ends.

Vegas XI 415

Vegas XII , April 2013, Aria- Our first April trip!

Vegas XIII, July 2013, MGM Signature- I call this the “red folder” trip because I came home one day and a red folder was sitting on my chair. Anne had surprised me with a trip to Vegas! We hadn’t been planning on going this summer. The Signature has great suites and it’s own very quiet pool. It’s a seven-minute walk from the MGM casino.

Vegas XIV, October 2013, Luxor, VIMFP- This trip was the time I realized I was not alone in my love of Vegas. One of the greatest experiences in my life. Click here for story.

Vegas XV, April 2014, Aria- Temperatures were cool on this trip and we had the pool virtually to ourselves on a few days.

Vegas XVI, August 2014, Aria – We finally visit the Hoover Dam which was one of the best things we did along with our trip to the Neon Museum.

Vegas 16 148

Vegas XVII, November 2014, Monte Carlo- Had an amazing time with my brother Giovanni celebrating his 40th with a group of great people. Also went to Divas which is just a fantastic show.

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Vegas XVIII, April 2015, Aria– Dinner at Giada’s costs much, much more than we anticipated. It was very good but not quite worth what we paid.

Vegas XIX, August 2015, Delano – We finally see Brad Garrett at BGCC. Great night! The Delano is a great place to stay with its own small pool.


Vegas XX, November 2015, Aria– Celebrated my 40th a little early with my brother Giovanni and his husband Matt. One of my favorite Vegas trips. We saw Boyz II Men and had a great dinner at Table 10 which is my favorite restaurant.


Vegas XXI,, April 2016, Aria– Harvest at the Bellagio is fantastic place with great food and Human Nature puts on an amazing show.

Vegas XXII, August 2016, Aria- Up Next!

Some of my Vegas numbers-

83- The number of nights I’ve spent in Vegas.

13- The number of resorts in which I’ve stayed.

8- The number of times we’ve stayed at Aria.

85- This is the conservative number of restaurants we’ve enjoyed. Our favorites include Table 10, Jaleo’s, Julian Serrano’s and The Border Grill.

25- The number of shows I’ve been to with Absinthe, Cirque Love, and Carrot Top (seriously) being three of my favorites.

Cirque Du Solei: O, KA, Elvis, Zumanity, Zarkana, Mystere,

Frank Marino’s Divas, Legends, Human Nature, Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club (twice), V: The Ultimate Variety Show, Rock of Ages, Terry Fator, Boyz II Men, Crazy Girls, Peep Show, Fantasy, X Country

Special Performances: Counting Crows, Neil Diamond, Jerry Seinfeld

3- The number of times I’ve pulled on stage during Vegas shows with my most infamous performance being a “provocative” dance during Absinthe.







The Hiatus is Over and My Worst Vegas Day

The Hiatus is Over

It has been quite a while since my last post. For most of the past eighteen months, I’ve been consumed with the process of applying for a new position at Southern for which I was selected and have been building a new office. I’ve never worked so hard or have been so happy! During that time, I’ve been to Vegas four times and after this last April trip, I have much to report. It’s amazing to see how much Vegas has changed in less than two years. Bill’s or Barbary Coast has been transformed to The Cromwell with a super fancy (and overpriced) celebrity chef restaurant (more on that in the future). Imperial Palace changed its name, twice, and is home base to The Linq which boasts a strip of eateries and shoperies anchored by tallest observation wheel in the world, The High Roller (more on that later too). Bally’s has finished it’s Grand Bazar Shops which may as well be a flea market (more later) and the Casino Royale is still going strong. I’ve seen some great shows (Rock of Ages, Tery Fator, Divas), been to some cool places (Hoover Dam, Neon Museum) and dined at some great restaurants (Jaleo, American Fish).

So, I have a lot to report and some pretty great stories to tell. Here is a quick one…

My Worst Vegas Day

As I mentioned above, in the last year I went through the process of applying and interviewing for a new position. The majority of this process took place last summer culminating in a nine-hour interview day on July 24th. We weren’t going to go away last summer but ultimately, Anne and I both needed a break and Vegas makes everything better. I figured that if I got a “good” phone call, I would spend it celebrating and if it was a “bad” phone call, I would spend some time grieving and recovering. In any case, I was happy to be in Vegas as always but as much as I tried to relax and enjoy Vegas, it was incredibly difficult as I was awaiting a decision which was to come by August 8th. We woke up early every morning which was actually very nice except that I’d be glued to my phone until about 2pm Vegas time (5pm on the east coast), waiting for it to ring hoping for the call letting me know about my future. On August 8th I got up at 6am, exceptionally early for being in Vegas. The phone rang at 7am. I answered. It wasn’t the call I was hoping for but rather a pizza truck vendor looking for some business. I grabbed two venti coffees from the promenade level Starbucks at Aria and went on with my tension filled day. With each passing hour, my anxiety grew. With each minute that passed, I found it harder and harder to smile. See, this wasn’t just waiting for a phone all about a promotion or new job, this was more than a job. This was my dream. I’ve always said that if I could do anything I would be the closer for the New York Yankees or do New Student Orientation everyday. I’m a passionate person. I love my family, Las Vegas, the New York Yankees, Buffalo Bills, professional wrestling, funny TV shows, great dramas, and I unequivocally believe in the power of higher education and sometimes I’m irrational about my dedication, commitment and loyalty to Southern Connecticut State University. This phone call would determine my future and could completely alter my path. And, I was in Las Vegas waiting for it to come.

We went to the pool where I sat in the water staring at my life case covered iPhone. Around 1pm (4pm in the east) we went to Aria Buffet. Only an hour remained until the weekend. I really like the Indian food at Aria’s buffet and was trying to enjoy some warm and crispy naan with garlic humus as the clock ticked past 2pm (5pm EDT) with no answer. I checked my email to see a message that said that an answer would come next week. My worst Vegas day would end in an anticlimactic moment that extended my limbo. No celebration. No grieving. I took a deep breath and said, “well, at least now I could relax.” And so we did.

On August 12th at 4:17pm while siting in my office, my phone finally rang with good news. As much as I would have liked to have received the call a few days prior, it was amazing to celebrate with my colleagues, friends, family and with the students that mean so much to me in the place that means more to me than even Vegas.

I’ve spent the past eight months working incredibly hard and enjoying every minute. I’m happy to return to the blogosphere with my reflections and reviews of my Vegas experiences.

Here is a preview of my future posts. I’m hoping to publish one a month.

Giada’s and Guy Fieri’s- this will be a compare and contrast piece of two Food Network Celebrity Chef’s restaurants.

The High Roller and The Linq- they did this right.

The Royal Shave- Awesome experience.

Gio’s 40th Weekend- Vegas with friends is pretty great. Will include a review of Divas, Monte Carlo and Aria Suites.

Terry Fator- the most uniquely talented man I’ve ever seen.

American Fish and Pub 1842- Michael Mina’s restaurants.

The hiatus is over. I’m happy to be back!

Oh, and here is the celebratory picture I wanted to take last August. I took it shortly after the Jasmine Brunch in November. The “Don’t Stop Believin’ “shirt is one of our very deep rooted New Student Orientation traditions.

DSB in front of the Bellagio







Vegas Award Season 2013!

2013 Awards Season! Vegas Edition

The Oscars, Golden Globes, Emmys, Grammys and, of course, the Vegas Trippies. It is awards season and Vegas awards are no exception. The people’s choice awards for Las Vegas go through where readers and Vegas fans vote, each year, on the best and worst of Vegas.  As opposed to critics, writers or columnists awards, the “trippies” are truly the people’s choice awards. Before I comment on some of the Vegas Tripping award winners, I’d like to offer some unique awards of my own.

The Second Annual Veni Vidi Vegas Awards

Best Place to Buy Drinks and Snacks, Walgreens- Most seasoned Vegas tourists know the little tricks to save a few bucks like buying show tickets from Tix 4 Tonight, what the best mode of transportation is to navigate the strip and to avoid resort shops and mini-bars for drinks, snacks and amenities. The strip is littered with several CVS, Walgreens, ABC and souvenir/convenience stores and where you stay certainly dictates where you may load up on Smart Waters, Funyuns, Bud Lights and Dentyne Ice. Personally, I like the 7/11 on the north end of the strip beyond the Encore towards the Riviera where you can fill a slushee cup with Pina Collada and pour in some Captain to make the least expensive fruity drink on the strip. However, the most convenient stop on the strip may be the two floor Walgreens connected to Planet Hollywood. I’m just a sucker for working escalators which seems to be a commodity in Vegas. My favorite part of this Walgreens is the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign painted near the escalator.

Vegas Walgreens

Vegas Commercials-

Best- Last Vegas

Worst- Fit Right In

Between Vegas commercials featuring Las Vegas and resorts, casinos, airlines and tourism companies promoting Sin City, you can find a number of short and entertaining Vegas themed commercials. Similar to TV shows, movies and music videos that use Vegas as a backdrop to either market a product or a trip to Vegas, my eyes open pretty wide when I see shots of the Bellagio, Strip, etc… flash on the screen. posted a number of commercials on their youtube channel here which are quite entertaining.  I’ll admit that I really enjoy the Ciroc commercial  but it glosses over its use of Vegas and who can believe for a second that this ragtag group would actually party in Vegas together?

Best- This year’s best Vegas commercial has to be the entire movie, Last Vegas, which works like a two-hour Aria commercial. Aria’s casino, wedding chapel, Haze nightclub, pool and especially the villa become a supporting character in the movie. I have to imagine that MGM Resorts paid quite a bit for this.

Last Vegas trailer-

My Last Vegas review-

Worst- The Cosmopolitan’s “Misfit Right In” which makes no sense and does a poor job marketing the property.

Most Annoying Vegas Tourists, Tour GroupsMy wife deserves a lot of credit for this pick. The nominees including the annoying women celebrating a bride to-be with their matching shirts, sashes and tiaras and the obnoxious guys on a bachelor party attempting to relive The Hangover and every other random Vegas stereotype they’ve seen their entire lives. Both of these groups can be confused with new twenty-one year olds celebrating a birthday and traipsing around the strip plastered, loud and cheap. Speaking of plastered, the club rats and doucebags standing in line at Hakkassan and Pure made our list. They are far less annoying going into the club than the barefoot and stumbling zombies coming out. Prior to talking to my wife, I would have selected families with babies in strollers navigating their way down the strip, through the Bellagio and trucking between slot machines in smoky casinos at 3am. But, my wife, nailed it. Nothing…and I mean nothing…is more annoying than the large, tourist groups waving brightly colored flags and light sabers to signal the gathering of their groups. They are everywhere and they encompass everything that is annoying about tourists. Few may be drunk and obnoxious but they are the slowest of the slow walkers as they use their ipads (the new fanny pack) to scan across every inch of the strip to take pictures and videos. Traveling in packs, they also push strollers, all get in lines for drinks and coffee at the same time and are barely aware of anyone or anything outside of their group. If you see them starting their tour of the Bellagio Conservatory, Forum Shops, Bellagio Fountains or the Grand Canal Shoppes, walk the other way and avoid them.

Best Celebrity, Floyd Mayweather- Last year, I went with Chumlee. This year, I’m choosing Floyd “Money” Mayweather because of a conversation I had with a server and host at D.vino restaurant in Monte Carlo. I was impressed by Floyd’s connection to the community. According to these two college students, everyone in Vegas has met Floyd at one point or another and he is incredibly kind and generous. Sure, he also doesn’t pay his taxes, places ridiculous superbowl bets and runs his mouth constantly but he should also be synonymous with Vegas glitz, glam and gluttony. He is the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world, brings in major dollars to the strip with each of his fights and is quietly charitable to his community.

Best Street Character, The Real Robert Deniro- Some people hate the street characters. They crack me up! I don’t enjoy when they have bad attitudes but when they stay in character and just act as additional strip decoration, I find them entertaining. At this year’s VIMFP, I ran into “The Real” Robert Deniro outside of The D. Dude is funny.

Deniro guy Vegas 

 The Trippies

Now that I’ve provided some of my own awards, here are my thoughts on some of the trippie awards…

Best in Show The D– The D did incredibly well this year. Without question, The D received a significant bump in voting because the resort hosted the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic. I’m sure that many of the awards were well-deserved but after spending a few days at The D, I don’t believe that it truly represents the Best in Show. When taking into consideration restaurants, casino, atmosphere,  bars, etc… I believe that The D is certainly the best downtown but I can’t believe that it can compete with the overall excellence of The Bellagio, Aria and most of the mega resorts on the strip. It definitely has the best video poker, slots and service but I still believe that Aria is the best resort in Vegas.

Best Burger, Binions (readers)/Andiamo (editor)- No way. Mandalay Bay’s Burger Bar still has the best burger in Vegas. Gordon Ramsey’s BurGR is great but Burger Bar is still the best burger as well as burger/shake/fries combo.

Person of the Year, Derek Stevens (readers)/David Schwartz(editor)- While both are deserving and I’ve had an opportunity to meet both individuals, Derek Stevens deserves this award. I can’t think of one other “inn keeper” that frequents the bar with his patrons, talks to his employees and takes such a hands on approach. He is likeable, accessible and grounded. What set him apart from others is what his employees said. In speaking with the cashier in the convenience store amongst others, the employees speak highly of him and, more importantly, their attitudes while at work reflect the culture that Derek has built.

Best Act, Absinthe- I could not agree with this more. One of the best experiences I’ve had in Vegas. Here is my review-

Best App, MyVegas- The readers got this wrong. It is Vegasmate. What a disaster by the readers.

Note- I considered a celebrity someone who has mass appeal. Person of the year is the individual that has helped the city advance or prosper.

Just a Misfit: Ranting About The Cosmopolitan


I don’t get it.

Earlier this week, I was watching a few episodes of Park and Rec on the Esquire Network when an odd but eye-catching commercial popped off my TV screen. Unlike most people, I normally pay attention to commercials as I’m always interested in the creativity and quirkiness of how products are advertised. As a series of odd images and phrases flashed across the screen set to “Original Don,” by Major Lazer, I started to wonder what I was watching.

Perhaps the intent of the commercial is to have its audience try to guess what the product is before it’s revealed. Initially, I thought that maybe it was for an obnoxious fragrance that would waft from the droves of douche bags wearing the official uniform of untucked shirts and jeans while chugging red bulls waiting in line outside of Hakkassan. However, thirty-two disjunctive and ridiculous seconds later, I wasn’t surprised to see that it was for “The Cosmopolitan.”

While the property has grown on me considerably since it first opened, I still feel that it is just an awkward property. Like the commercial, I just don’t get it. The Cosmo is like a hipster in a socialite costume or Johnny Depp cross-dressing as Kim Kardashian. The boutique shops, limited edition sneaker store and restaurants that come across as farm to table (they are not) are dressed in gaudy chandeliers, sequins and decorated with stiletto statues and retro rotary phones. Like I said, I just don’t get it.

I’ve read great reviews of the rooms, service and restaurants. I’ve enjoyed Scarpetta, Holsteins and the Wicked Spoon Buffet. We’ve spent a few pleasurable hours in the casino as well.  They seem to be doing a lot right but I think the niche is wearing off, and doing so quickly. With, possibly the worst value on the strip and lack of “identity” (pun intended as that is what they call their loyalty program), I foresee The Cosmopolitan struggling to compete with other properties which either offer better value or more luxury. And, who is this commercial supposed to attract? Who is the demographic? I’m not sure and I question that they really know either. Like I said, I just don’t get it.

The commercial-

And if you don’t want to watch it, here is the text from the commercial-

Mutation is Progress, One-offs beat copies, Wrong has more fun, Correct is a mistake, Right is a trap, Proper dies anonymous, Waid is laid, Fight right, Break some eggs, Make a hot mess, Misfit Right In, Just the right amount of wrong

What is that?




How Vegas Saved the Worst Christmas Ever

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‘Twas the morning of Christmas, 2007, in Aun’t Sue’s Queens Village House
The robotic figurines were singing with Santa Mickey Mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

Aunt Sue smeared red lipstick on my cheeks. The musty red pants and jacket trimmed in white grated against my skin. Countless uncles, aunts and cousins adorned the costume throughout the years and, somehow, it was now my turn. Aunt Sue called me just a few days before Christmas and asked me the question that I undoubtedly knew would result in a catastrophe. What I didn’t realize is that it would ignite a chain reaction of failures that would scar me forever.

“Can you be Santa this year?” she asked.

I replayed the conversation in my mind as she put the finishing touches on my look and adjusted my beard and hat.

“Yes,” I had replied. “But, I don’t want to be held responsible when Cailyn figures out that Sal is Santa and Santa isn’t real.”

“She won’t know and if she figures it out, I’ll handle it,” she said.

As I prepared for my first, and last, appearance as Old Saint Nick, I reminded myself that if I would be on a flight to Vegas in just a few short hours. Vegas during the holidays is a special place to be. My first day in Vegas was New Year’s Day. On my next trip, I celebrated New Years Eve at the Hard Rock. And, with a few summer trips in between, I looked forward to the day when I’d land in Vegas to the pilot, flight attendants, cab driver and hotel desk would wish me a “Merry Christmas” in Vegas. I’m a Vegas guy but I’m also a Christmas guy and a Christmas Eve baby. Needless to say, I was excited to combine my love of Vegas with my love of Christmas. But first, I needed to play the role of Santa.
The children bustled in the living room above;
With visions of Santa and the story of a white glove;
And my wife in her sweater getting ready for a laugh,
Double checked her luggage tags on the bags nicely packed,

I could hear Anne’s cousins Cailyn and Ava dancing around the living room asking when Santa was coming. Cailyn was seven and had begun questioning Santa’s legitimacy. Her parents had gone so far as to leave a hand-written note carefully crafted by a friend of the family to mask the handwriting and a single white glove, complete with chocolate chip cookie stains. She had sealed the glove and note in a Ziploc bag and told the entire family the story while, downstairs, Aunt Sue instructed me on how I would make my grand appearance. My mission was to wait until I heard the manufactured reindeer hoofsteps on the ceiling and then begin “ho ho ho-ing” from the deck.

When out of the living room arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the basement with presents I gathered.
Away to the patio I flew like a flash,
Tore open the screen door and prayed they fell for my cheap beard and mustache.
The entire family stood in the living room as I “ho-ed” the best I could. Now, it is important to note that I have had some theatrical training in college. I dabbled in the arts and acted in a few shows. I’ve got skills. But, when the seven year-old I’ve known my entire life stared through me skeptically, I knew I had no chance of pulling this off. My wife says I looked terrified and that I was the worst Santa ever. And, I’ll admit that it wasn’t my best performance. I plopped down in the big chair next to the fireplace. The tree to my left and presents scattered around the room, I called Cailyn over to give her some gifts. She sat on my lap and without skipping a beat she said, “Sal? You’re not Santa.”

The heart in my chest fell to my stomach below,
Rapidly, I grew flustered and searched for words to follow,
When what to my wandering eyes did appear,
But another littler girl and I spoke with so much fear,

“Cailyn, it is Sal,” I whispered. “Don’t tell Ava.”

That’s all I could muster. Very few feelings are as terrible as taking the magic of Christmas away from a child. Ava seemed to be clueless but Cailyn was acutely aware of what had just transpired. She ran to Aunt Sue, her Grandmother, who said something about Santa having to visit a lot of children and that I was filling in but it was too late. The damage was already done. I don’t remember exactly what happened from there. Shortly after the Santa debacle, I found myself back in the basement racing to get out of that costume. Scrubbing my face over the sink, soap mixed with tears as I struggled to remove all remnants of my Santa failure. I dressed slowly as I was too embarrassed to show my face to the family. Anne came downstairs.

“You Ok?” she asked.
“No. Not really. How is Cailyn?”
“She’s dealing. She wanted me to tell you that it’s ok and she forgives you.”

Yes. She really did say that. The seven-year old forgave me for basically ruining her Christmas forever. As I put myself back together, Anne reminded me that we would be on our way to the airport soon . Vegas is a surefire way to change my attitude about anything. So, I returned to the family. They laughed at my expense but I found no humor in what happened. I still don’t. But, at least things can’t get worse, I thought.

When I finally emerged from the basement, Cailyn’s Mom, Alyson, assured me that she was fine.
“You did ya best,” she said in her New York accent. “Cawl and check to make sure your flight is running on time,” she advised.

Please. This wasn’t my first time to the show. No delays or cancellations in New York. After opening presents, enjoying Christmas dinner and having a cup of coffee, Anne and I were ready for Christmas in Vegas.
Hopped in my car, so lively and quick,
We were on way to Sin City and jumped on the Van Wyck.
More rapid than timeshare hawkers harassing tourists in vain,
We whistled through traffic and reviewed our Vegas stops by name:
To the fountains, conservatory, Olives and Bellagio Buffet!
We’ll hit the Miracle Mile, Forum Shops, Venetian and Cirque Du Solei!

With time to spare, we parked our car and began the cold trek across the parking lot to the terminal. My Santa failure faded into the gray Queens sky behind me as the Christmas and Vegas spirit filled my core as I took in the frigid air.

We pulled up to the counter. The Delta representative greeted me with a hearty, “Merry Christmas!” We presented her with our credentials and she began clicking away at her screen. The process seemed to be taking a little longer than usual.

“Everything all right?” I asked.
“Ummm…you’re at the wrong airport,” she replied.

From the depths of New York I pleaded! Who can you call?
Help us get away! get away! Get away from this all.
Despair set in. I begged they help us fly,
But, we were met with obstacles from getting in the sky;

The best advice they had at JFK was to get to Laguardia. Without a word, I grabbed our suitcases and raced back to the car. I was determined to make the flight. Our flight was in two hours and Laguardia was only 20 minutes from JFK. The clock was ticking.

So back to the car, we certainly flew
With shame and embarrassment, Terrible Christmas, part two—
Slamming the car doors, driving with something to prove
Punching and grunting, I felt like a complete doof.

We made it to Laguarida with less than an hour to our flight. We ran to the counter hoping for mercy and a Christmas miracle. When we finally attempted to check in for our flight, we were too late. The Delta representative, Angela, was incredibly kind. We simply had no options. We rebooked for the following day, I called Planet Hollywood and they nicely accommodated our request and added a day to our reservation. Similar to the moments after ruining Cailyn’s Christmas, I don’t remember the walk back to the car.

For the 2nd time on this Christmas, I found myself ashamed and embarrassed and pondering my failures. Sitting in my car at the Laguardia parking lot with the motor running, I made phone calls to a few friends and family members letting them know that we weren’t on our way to Vegas. So ashamed of my moronic error, I lied and said that we just rearranged our flight to leave on the 26th. Anne and I had barely exchanged a word since the Delta representative said, “Umm…you’re at the wrong airport.” I knew I couldn’t avoid it any longer but all Anne said was, “It’s ok. I forgive you.” I temporarily lost all emotional control and just broke down. How can this have happened on Christmas?

As I drew in my head, the day that had seemed to confound,
From my failed performance of St. Nicholas to an empty seat in the air and me on the ground.
Filled with anger, regret and shame, from my head to my foot,
Christmas, tarnished forever? I believed it would;
We spent the night at Aunt Sue’s. Our flight was scheduled for the mid-afternoon on December 26th. I barely slept and the next day, I checked on our flight almost continually and I made sure that several people checked that we were going to the right airport. We arrived at JFK three hours before our flight.
Clutching my boarding pass with a bag on my back,
We sat by the gate, so thankful my wife never gave me any flack.
Her eyes—with that Vegas twinkle! She began to smile, well, barely.
For weeks we hoped for a Vegas Christmas so Merry.
Perhaps it wasn’t too late, after all we were on our way now,
And no weather in site, no rain, sleet and thank god no snow;

I don’t remember the flight. I don’t remember landing. Nobody wished me a Very Merry Vegas Christmas. But, as soon as we were in the cab and saw the lights of the Vegas strip, I began to feel healed and whole again. I regaled the Planet Hollywood front desk with the story of our journey and perhaps it was the pain in my voice but he simply said, “I think you’ll enjoy your room.”

The room was corny and cheesy, if I do say so myself,
And I laughed at the James Bond themed items, funny as hell;
I walked to the window, a grand view would be great
Little did I know, all my bad luck was about to change;

Anne and I stood at the window and stared for quite some time. We had a great view of the Bellagio Fountains and, could even hear the music. Christmas songs played as the fountains danced. Normally, on the first night in Vegas, I can’t wait to go out and explore but everything caught up with me and I passed out with a smile and the fountains dancing in the background. That trip was fantastic. We saw some great shows, had some luck in the casino, loved our stay at Planet Hollywood and dined in places that we would return to several times. But, it was that view that made the difference. Every morning, Anne would sit by the window with a coffee and enjoy the view and every night, we would spend some time watching the fountains dance. A few years later, I finally got to Vegas on Christmas day and, while I loved it, it is the worst Christmas ever that will be etched in my memory forever.


We work hard every day until that final whistle,
And we look forward to our Vegas trips which always shine and never fizzle.
As we celebrate Christmas, think of those neon Vegas lights,
I say to you all- “Merry Vegas to all, and to all a good night!”

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The Vegas Depression: #theStruggle #firstWorldProblems

Sal at airport

At McCarran Airport

It’s been a month since I was standing in McCarran Airport waiting for my flight back to Hartford from Las Vegas. That’s always when it sets in. The Vegas depression that Vegas enthusiasts, such as myself, experience is very real. Actually, I believe VD, as we may as well call it (pun intended), is contracted the minute you land in Vegas. The clock starts ticking. One of my most and least favorite parts of each trip is the walk from the cab to the hotel lobby for check-in. The smell of pumped in aromatic scents hits you, the chimes of the slot machines rings throughout the casino and the possibilities of Vegas are real once again. But, at the same time watching the sad faces dragging their suitcases is a reminder that your trip is terminal and, too soon, your time in paradise will expire. That exhausted walk with a packed suitcase from your room, down the elevator, through the lobby and to the cabstand can be torturous. Each time I wonder, “should I have stayed one more day?” Realizing that it wouldn’t matter, I try to take in as much as I can as if I may never return. By the time you’ve taken that terrible cab ride back to McCarran, you have a full blown case of VD. 

Treating VD is more complicated than trying to understand how Criss Angel still has a show in Vegas. But, I’m going to attempt to help. Here are some things that help curb my VD. 

I’m going to approach the treatment plan by finding ways to continue experiencing Vegas rather than seeking distraction like investing time in family and friends or finding a Vegas substitute. In other words, don’t move on. You’re not breaking up with Vegas, you’re just on hiatus.

1. Begin planning your next trip immediately-Even if you don’t have the funds, search for deals, flights, potential dinners, shows and excursions. This should also coincide with saving money to finance your next trip.

2. Relive your favorite moments- Scroll through pictures, write about your past trips and tell your family and friends about your favorite Vegasy things. When they stop listening, talk to your dog or babies. It’s only a little crazy.

3. Movies, TV, books and music- I’ll watch or read anything Vegas related. I find it cathartic to see big panning views of the strip and read stories set in Vegas. It allows me to say, “I’ve been there” or “maybe I can run into Chumlee again.”

4. Find a support group- The internet is full of Vegas enthusiasts. Friend them on Facebook, join the Five Hundy Facebook group, find them on Twitter, read the blogs (lots of them), visit websites (vegastripping), listen to podcasts (Five Hundy, Vegas Gang) and connect with other Vegasy people.

5. Go back- it works every time.

If you are experiencing symptoms of VD, consult a Vegas enthusiast immediately. Don’t attempt to go at this alone.



“Last Vegas” movie review. Vanilla Vegas

Last Vegas: Vanilla Vegas

I’m a sucker for Vegas movies. I’ll watch anything that shows the city in all its splendor even real clunkers like “Burt Wonderstone” and “What Happens in Vegas.” I’ve been looking forward to Last Vegas ever since last October when I was in Vegas for a conference and I saw them filming. I’m pretty sure I saw Deniro as he was on set, walking in front of the Mirage, and I was standing in front of Casino Royale. Pretty sure. My excitement was reignited a few weeks ago when I was in town for the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic or #vimfp and the Last Vegas cast was there as well for their premier.

So, as I was traveling to San Antonio for a conference, I hoped for a free night to catch the movie. The first night in Texas, as I was taking in the Riverwalk, I had that empty feeling that I often associate when I’m away from home (CT) but not in my 2nd home (LV) and I passed a mall with a movie theatre. With a couple of clicks on my iPhone, I found that I had 10 minutes to catch the last showing of Last Vegas so I raced up a couple of working escalators (strange to find a city with so many working walkways) purchased tickets and took my seat. I have to include information about this AMC theatre. The seats in this AMC Theatre are all reserved so I chose my perfect location and, get this, they are full leather recliners. Like, what?! Perfect.

The plot is simple; Paddy, Billy, Archie and Sam (Deniro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline respectively) have been friends for over 60 years and call themselves the Flatbush Four. They’ve lived full lives. Paddy’s wife, who was from the old neighborhood, passed away a year ago. Archie recently had a stroke. Sam lives with his wife in a Florida retirement community and bachelor Billy is finally settling down with a woman less than half his age. Billy wants his old friends to celebrate his Vegas wedding by joining him for the weekend and of course they decide to throw him a big bachelor party the night before the wedding. Billy and Paddy have unresolved issues, Archie is dealing with his overprotective son while Sam is in the midst of a very late mid-life crisis. Add Mary Steenburgen who plays Diana, an attorney turned lounge singer, and you have your main players.  The plot line and story are a bit thin but this isn’t about a solid story with a substantial plot and satisfying resolution. This is about four old guys experiencing Vegas. Movies that choose to set their stories with Vegas as their backdrop need to learn how to use the city to complement their film and help propel it. Part of the charm of The Hangover, Oceans 11 and even Vegas Vacation is that Vegas becomes another character of the film. We wait to see how that pesky antagonist, Vegas, will impact those romping around in her playground and often, we look forward to the magic Vegas moment where the city forgives and sometimes rewards her pawns. The majority of the movie is set in the Aria which is one of my favorite places to stay. I wonder how much MGM/Mirage paid because the Aria is shown beautifully in every way from success in the casino to a grand night at Haze and a suite with revolving beds and a personal concierge. The cast of Zarkana makes several appearances including even participating in Billy’s bachelor party. The rest of the city takes a back seat to the Aria with the exception of Binions which is where Diana performs. In fact, little things about the movie’s use of Vegas drove me crazy like the characters walking the wrong way to the Aria and, later, being dropped off at baggage claim instead of the departure terminals when they were leaving from their adventure.  The movie captures the spirit of the city but doesn’t fully use the nuances that could have added so much humor and conflict like old guys on a budget paying for steaks, watching a Cirque show with absolute confusion, being accosted by the street walkers, hustling a few young bucks at a poker table or maybe getting arrested for starting a brawl. Perhaps it was the PG-13 rating, but I felt that they didn’t push these old men who were, mostly, looking for a little “life” in their lives and turned to Vegas for that lift. But, it was more vanilla than an episode of the Golden Girls. That’s not to say that the movie doesn’t have some laughs and isn’t fun. After all, the cast is just too good to let the movie fall completely flat. Overall, what saves this is five great actors letting their characters’ friendships grow, develop and reconnect. I haven’t spent much time in Vegas with my closest friends but I look forward to early bird dinners with my wife, being the old couple at the pool and sharing our love of Vegas with friends, nieces, nephews and godchildren as they get to experience Vegas for the first time. Hopefully, our adventures won’t be quite as bland as the Flatbush Four.

As for Last Vegas, if you love Vegas, don’t expect to be overwhelmed by the way the movie features the city but you’ll appreciate the way the characters celebrate the spirit of Vegas. As a movie, it was a low B-. Wait for DVD unless you absolutely love the actors or are obsessed with Vegas.