My Vegas Heist

It’s the perfect heist. I go to Las Vegas for the long weekend with small team, masquerading as a bunch of recent grads looking to live up a weekend on the strip. We walk up and down the strip, try to beat the buffets, and see shows. Meanwhile, we have acquired keys to a home in the area that is currently unoccupied and have arranged transportation. One afternoon, we slip out of the crazy Vegas life, take what we want out of the home, and drive away with a truckload of things that happen to have a new home in my place in the Bay Area.

Well, it’s not perfect. I think in the perfect heist, the owner of the acquired items shouldn’t agree to the plan. A few months ago, I began a furniture hunt for my new place, and while standing outside a Starbucks next to a mattress store where a salesman was waiting for my response on a “take-it-or-leave-it” offer, my mom told me over the phone that I shouldn’t bother buying furniture since my grandpa had a fully furnished place in Vegas that only needed furniture for 2. At that moment, I was annoyed because I had been somewhat anxious about furniture shopping and had finally mustered up the courage to go to a mattress store. Ultimately, taking my grandpa’s furniture was lot less work and a lot more fun, at the risk of turning my own home into a weird reminder of my grandpa.

On Thursday night, Jordan, Heidi, and I pulled up to the community gate in what was almost a Volvo but ended up a Mazda 3 when the Hertz garage guard informed us that we had taken the wrong car despite the Volvo being in the stall number we were told. Anyways, at the community gate, I was stretching out of the window while keeping my foot on the brakes to look at the sign with the neighborhood map. The numbers were hard to make out in the dark, but I spotted my grandpa’s unit in the upper right corner, then pulled up another couple feet to the access box where I punched in the gate code.

The drive through the neighborhood was quick, but even in the dark, my expectations rose. I had imagined my grandpa in a cheap condo, but the buildings looked relatively new and well-maintained. We found our assigned parking spot right in front of the address I was given and quickly got up to the door. I pulled out the key ring my mom had given me over, or maybe “for” in retrospect, Christmas and saw 3 keys. The first key I tried worked, and upon popping open the door, we had arrived.

In the car ride over, I joked that I hoped the place didn’t smell like my grandpa. Well, it didn’t, but as soon as I stepped in, I saw a cashew can converted into a toothpick holder in the living room and recognized his handiwork. The living room opened to the dining area behind it, with the kitchen adjacent to that. In the coat closet, I found a “Hitachi” sweater, which is a holdover from his furniture and appliance store. The desk in the master bedroom had the clutter I expected from too many different things and an inability to part with old electronics.

The kitchen was filled with more reminders of my grandpa. I saw a reused jar on the counter filled with hard candies, like the Werther’s caramels that he, my mom, and I all love. Dried shrimp, appropriate for soups and fried rice, were in the fridge. I found dried orange peels in a cupboard and was immediately reminded of those sweet, sour treats in the small, heart-shaped plastic containers. Another cupboard was dedicated to large containers of rice.

As I was admiring the items around the kitchen that would soon be mine, Jordan pulled me into the washroom to point out that the toilet wasn’t flushing. I yanked the chain directly and was thankful that it then flushed, but that didn’t address the toilet carpet that had apparently been sopping wet even before we arrived. It was wet enough that it had to be recent, which was surprising because no one had been there for awhile. I grabbed a plastic bag from the bag collection that I had admired earlier, put the carpet in it, and carried it outside to dry.

Going back into the washroom, I flushed again and saw a drip from the pipe behind the toilet. It took me no time to find another reused plastic yogurt container in the kitchen to stick beneath the drip. First crisis averted.

In the next few minutes, we found maybe 5 bugs, mostly dead and swept those along. Next, I sat back in the beige couch in the living room, grabbed the remote, and hit the power button. The TV didn’t have any signal, and though I knew to scan for digital channels from my own TV, I decided instead to just turn it off. Looking around, I had the strange feeling of meeting important friends. Like a freshman arriving at their dorm and meeting their dormmates, I knew I would become well acquainted with everything in the room and would soon develop a relationship with all of it. But for now, it was all still new.

On the coffee table in front of me that looked more like a barebones bookshelf sat a pile of newspapers, with dates from about a year and a half ago. After chatting for a bit longer, we all decided to turn in for the night and each went to our own bedroom.

I woke up the next morning sometime around 11, maybe. None of the clocks were right, with the best being an hour off for daylights saving time. Coming out into the kitchen, Jordan told me that he had tried to take a shower that morning but couldn’t get any hot water. I tried the hot water from the sink, but it was even colder than the cold water. I had seen the hot water heater the night before and took a second look. There weren’t any obvious controls on it besides a spout at the bottom, which released cold water as well when opened.

Jordan seemed willing to deal with the situation as is. He would take a cold bath and boil some water to shave with, but I remembered that my grandfather had written an email introduction to the neighbors in the unit above, so I visited them for answers. The meeting was short, but he told me that the heater was electrical, so perhaps the circuit breaker was thrown.

We found the panel behind a door in one of the bedrooms, and as the neighbor suggested, many of them were turned off. In my grandfather’s handwriting were descriptions of every switch, so I flipped the one labeled “WATER HEATER” back on, and a few minutes later, we had hot water. Besides needing to empty the bucket behind the toilet twice more later, everything else went smoothly.

It was a strange confluence seeing my college friends in an environment so clearly constructed by my grandpa. For them, a water bottle cut in half as a rice scoop is maybe quirky, but to me, it’s his quintessential creativity for being economical. The 2 boxes of pancake mix, 3 bottles of pancake syrup, and waffle iron were just a characteristic of my grandpa to them, but I was surprised to learn about this food preference. In fact, the only connection I can find is that my mom owns a waffle iron that we haven’t used in years.

As we carried furniture and boxes to the moving truck a few days later, I felt a strange mix of the novel and familiar. I had only first seen the beds and couches when I arrived, but everything seemed to be a good fit for my own home. Far from a reminder of my grandpa, the pieces work well with the quirks I carry forward from him.

What happens in Vegas stays in my blog archive

We have a lot of fun dorm events, like ski trip, laser tag, and broomball. These events are largely planned by the RAs in the dorm, and hopefully, they carefully consider the budget in picking activities. I cannot imagine how our most recent event occurred other than with the justification, “Screw it! Let’s blow the rest of the dorm fund on a trip to Las Vegas.”

So a part of the dorm got a heavily subsidized trip to Vegas this past weekend under the guise of an educational experience. While some might hope that we could be considering probability, doing cost-benefit analysis, and observing the effects of various substances on behavior, we actually learned about the importance of science in the arts. We listened to several presentations on sports medicine and the behind-the-scenes for Cirque de Soleil and saw two Cirque performances in Vegas.

Arriving Friday afternoon, we first watched KÀ. The show fitted around the story of two royal twins trying to reunite after an attack by another clan, though the plot wasn’t so important. The costumes and theme, however, made the experience much more complete and provided some context for the various acts. The show began with an impressive wushu demonstration and quickly moved onto more original acrobatic acts. I was most impressed with the wheel of death, which I have since wikipedia-ed and learned is a common circus act. You can probably youtube it, though the actual thrill of a live performance probably far exceeds that of a taped version.

Saturday morning, several dormmates came to our room asking if we wanted to join them for a buffet breakfast at the Wynn. Several showers later, our room left to catch up and arrived maybe 15 minutes later and many spots behind in line. Some strategic cutting got us back together, though the wait was still almost an hour. And brunch costed about 1/8th of a Nintendo Wii. Our party could’ve bought just over 1 Nintendo Wii.

They seated us almost immediately, which surprised me until I saw that the staff had left many tables open. While perhaps not optimal for quickening the line, the certainly intentionally slow seating meant that the table area wasn’t loud or crowded. In fact, we were so comfortable, we stayed for about 3 hours. The buffet offered sucker foods like oatmeal, eggs, cereal, and bagels, but it also had sushi, fruit salads, authentic Chinese food, Italian, and the most amazing dessert area in existence. Being a buffet, that meant an entire plate was dedicated to just desserts, and I think we averaged about 4 plates of food per person. We had one champ who downed something more like 10, but the rest of us were mostly done in the first hour. I’m fairly certain we didn’t beat the buffet, but $30 is a lot of food.

That evening, we went to our second Cirque performance of Mystère. This was a much more traditional circus performance, including a clown, trampolines, and trapeze. The music was great, and the show maintained a good pace jumping back and forth between shocking physical displays and comedic acts. Just like the previous performance, everyone came out amazed, and while they were both Cirque shows demonstrating amazing, artistic, physical acts, I can’t really compare them. Just see them all.

Late that evening, a group of us went to see the Blue Man Group perform as a surprise birthday celebration for a member of our delegation. They’re somewhat hard to describe, but the show is mostly 3 men covered in blue paint who never make any facial expressions. And they play a bunch of different percussion instruments and have short, funny moments. They’re surprisingly expressive for never moving their lips or eyebrows, just by looking around at each other. Their act is somewhat hard to explain, but it was absolutely fantastic, and I highly recommend seeing them as well.

So Vegas was good. Honestly, a lot of its attractions aren’t attractive to me. And I’m unhappy that some of my clothes now smells like cancer. But it’s an exciting place that really tries to appeal to everyone, and I was absolutely satisfied just to look at the hotels and see the shows. Any time a place makes you forget that’s there real life to deal with, that’s a good vacation.