I spent this weekend in Las Vegas (stories to come), culminating with a terrific meal with poker historian Nolan Dalla and his wife, Marietta, at the Mexican restaurant El Segundo Sol, where we had a wonderful two hour conversation and the best fresh guacamole I've ever tasted.
That title used to belong to the guac at Dos Caminos, a place in the Palazzo. I ate there a few times several years ago, but haven't been back since I started boycotting Palazzo and its sister property, Venetian, after learning they are the only two non-union casino/hotels on the strip, owned by Sheldon Adelson, who has used his billions to support extreme right-wing political candidates. Nolan won't set foot in them, either, and while our staying away hasn't caused a measurable dip in Adelson's bottom line, at least he's not getting any of our principled dollars.
After we ate, Nolan dropped me off at McCarran Airport for my 6:35pm Southwest flight. What I didn't know until then was that the flight had been delayed, first to 7:45pm, and then to 8:30pm. Fortunately, McCarran has free wifi, so I spent a couple of hours catching up on news I'd missed over the weekend and replying to some emails.
As we lined up to board around 8:15pm, the gate agent made an announcement I'd never heard before, apologizing that the flight would have to be delayed again because they couldn't find a crucial piece of equipment -- the captain's seat belt buckle -- and they couldn't take off without it. How do you lose a seat belt buckle on a plane that just flew in? A few minutes later, the agent reported that they were also unable to find a replacement buckle, so another entire airplane was being flown in from Los Angeles, but wouldn't be here and ready for another hour.
You might have heard the loud groans from my fellow passengers at your house.
Everyone else went to sit down and wait again, but I remained in place, mostly because I just couldn't sit anymore, knowing I'd be on my butt for several more hours once we finally did get going. Fifteen minutes went by before the Southwest agent -- who did a very good job keeping us informed throughout -- got back on the PA to announce that they had somehow found the captain's seat belt. I think it was wedged in the space between his and the co-pilot's seat. Also found: 53¢ in loose change and some old gum.
So, the boarding process finally began, and we were in the air by 9:15pm Pacific Time, which meant we weren't going to get to St. Louis until almost 2:30am Central Time. I was already exhausted -- no one gets any sleep over a weekend in Vegas -- and began wondering, since there aren't usually flights that late at Lambert Airport, whether there would be a shuttle bus to take me to my car in the long-term parking lot.
When we landed, the terminal was virtually empty, except for a skeleton staff that had stuck around for us -- the cleaning lady, the security guy, the baggage personnel, and yes, to my amazement, the shuttle bus driver. It seemed like the night would end better than it began. Until I tried to exit the parking lot.
Its exit gate is automated, with no personnel in the booth, so you have to pay by credit card. As I approached the gate, there was a woman standing next to her car, looking frustrated. I figured that she didn't know about the credit-card-only policy and was stuck, so I got out to ask, and she told me that the system wasn't processing her card, so she had pushed the emergency help button and was waiting for someone to come open it up for her.
I tried my card, and it was rejected, too. Damn!
At that moment, a guy from the parking lot company showed up and entered the booth. I figured we'd be out of there in seconds, so I returned to my car, but after a couple of minutes, the gate still hadn't opened for her because he couldn't get the system to process her plastic manually. She told me he could accept cash while the electronics were down, but she didn't have enough money.
I thought she was going to ask to borrow some from me, but instead she said that if I had cash to pay for my exit, she'd move out of the way and let me go. I did, so she did, and when I approached the booth to pay my $28 charge for four days of parking, the display showed the amount she'd have to pay -- $112. I did some quick calculation and realized that her car had been in that lot for 16 days.
She'd been away from home for over two weeks and now couldn't get out of the damn parking lot to get home. At least guy-in-the-booth was working on the problem, which he said shouldn't take more than a couple more minutes. I offered to help in some way, but she demurred, thanked me, and seemed resigned to her short-term fate in the long-term lot.
So, I paid my way out of there and, finally freed from the enclosure and having not lost my seat belt, headed home to collapse into bed at 3:15am.