Vegas – the city where pretty much anything goes (or so they say). What kind of trouble can we get into? We’re about to find out.
[You’re reading part of the Mustang Challenge series, a loosely bound concept that was created to inspire others to get out and explore the country in their cars. In this Mustang Challenge, two Canadians are touring the USA for the first time, traveling for 26 days through 13 different US cities while traversing over 8,000 miles behind the wheel of a 2016 Mustang GT. This is one post in a series of many. To read the previous articles and to follow the series, jump to the bottom of this page.]
Vegas is a liquid city. The landscape, the events, the tourists – always changing at an astronomical rate. And the money, easy to hide and hard to trace; the sheer amount of cash flowing through that city, on any given day, is unfathomable. A city that endears itself to your inner devil, a city that actively encourages you to part with your hard earned money through many, borderline nefarious ways. All of this debauchery capped with the motto “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, a great line purpose built to help ease the pain of whatever potentially poor decision you made in Vegas, and there are always poor decisions. After all, that’s the point of Vegas, right? The entire concept of Sin City is to have us, the patrons, blow a lot of cash, very fast, then head home and return to our normal lives. Back home, a minor smirk or light chuckle may escape our lips as we reminisce about our Vegas escapades, this memory like a small light in an otherwise sea full of bleak and the mundane, like Vegas is a source of bustling life amongst an arid desert. The entire concept doesn’t really make sense, yet day after day, thousands of new people arrive to take part and experience the Vegas experience, to dabble in the grey and wrangle with the taboo. Las Vegas sure is a special place.
With that in mind, what poor decisions did I make, you ask? Nothing I wouldn’t tell my mother about. In fact, I’ve already given her the full scoop. Far as I know, I’m still in her will.
The Middle Of Nowhere
Rolling into Vegas, at night, is real interesting. We approached Vegas from the west (from LA) and apart from one huge mountain pass, aptly name “California-Vegas mountain pass”, the drive was benign. Las Vegas is a massive city literally in the middle of nowhere. And at night, when descending through to the Nevada side of the path, this becomes very clear. Once down the pass, further off to the north-east, rises up this monstrous beam of light, splitting the dark night as if the mother of all motherships was hovering overtop and deploying a 50mile diameter tractor beam (perhaps collecting their cut of the money?). The city buildings themselves are hidden by a small mountain, but the light emitted from all the buildings and signage has no problem escaping to the stratosphere. Everywhere else – complete darkness.
It takes another 60 miles before turning the corner and the buildings come into view. Urban sprawl stretches out all in all directions, with the skyscraper hotels of the Las Vegas strip acting as the epicentre of this visual spectacle. A terrible place for astronomers, that’s for sure. Nobody is going to Sin City for that, though. To be a star, yes. To look at stars, definitely not.
We rolled in late, around midnight or shortly after, having celebrated Alex’s 24th birthday on the beach in LA earlier the same day. Our lodgement of choice was the Stratosphere. In hind sight, I would have preferred staying closer to the north end of the strip, but at $28 a night, we’d gladly hop on and off the Deuce (24/7 city bus) to head down the strip when needed.
Our first day in Vegas was pretty basic. We roared out of the parking garage heading to EggWorks for a humongous breakfast, then headed to the local laundromat to do some much needed laundry (the trunk, and now some of our bags, absolutely reek of Andrew’s nasty, sweaty hockey gear). Whilst the clothes rumbled and tumbled in the washing machine, I took care of another necessity and got my lid cut from the barber shop next door before heading back to the hotel to relax by the pool.
Night fell, looking fresh and wearing clean clothes, Alex and I hit the street to explore the strip. The night kicked off with the Bellagio water fountain show, this time orchestrated to “This Kiss” by Faith Hill (which is a banging tune). Pumped up, we began our tour of the strip. By 2:30am we had passed through nearly every major casino (collecting free drinks as we went), only lost a little money, and even spoke about hockey with one of those strip club promoters that hassles everyone on the sidewalk. All in all, a pretty successful night.
4 Hours to the Grand Canyon, 45 Minutes to Hoover Dam
Day two was supposed to be a trip to the Grand Canyon, but upon waking up and looking at the map to see it was a 4 hour drive each way, we regrettably scrapped that idea and planned instead to visit the Hoover Dam. We were just too tired and had done too much driving in the past few days that another 8 hour stint was too much to stomach. On the other hand, I now have a great excuse to come back to Vegas.
Getting to the Hoover Dam was fun. There were a lot of twisty mountainous backstreets that allowed us to dabble with the performance abilities of the Mustang, finally a chance to push the car with some spirited driving.
Suffice to say, the car can handle much more than I am able to give it. Cornering was remarkably flat and poised, braking is crisp and on point. And of course, the Coyote up front pulls and pulls. In fact, I’d occasionally bounce it off the rev limiter as the rate of acceleration caught me by surprise. Clearly, I’m used to much slower cars and much longer gears.
Another really notable area is the surprisingly clean way the car launches. The independent rear suspension does a great job handling wheel hop, not entirely limited, but allows for a very minimal amount. Compared to my 87 GT, it’s like night and day. The Fox could rattle teeth loose with the way it would launch, whereas the S550 pulls away with the grace of a power skater – starting off with a mild chop that quickly disappears as the speed picks up. We got some great video exhibiting just how ferocious the MMD side pipe exhaust is as it reverberates off the mountains. Even with the afternoon temperature pushing 100F, the coolant temperature never exceeded the half way mark on the gauge, which I found somewhat surprising – although this car has been upgraded with a Ford Racing performance radiator, which may or may not have played a role in it.
Perhaps the Mustang was not feeling the heat, but we certainly were. Before arriving back at the hotel we stopped at a used car dealership to snap a prank picture of us “selling” Andrew’s car to pay for our gambling debts. The owner, Tony, was happy to pose for the photo with Alex, meanwhile his partner, John, and I were engrossed in a conversation about Mustangs.
Turns out, John has an ’86 (four-eyed) Foxbody that runs mid-eights in the quarter mile, trapping 150-160 as he passes through the gates. He showed me a few videos of it leaving the line and boy, does that thing really take off. The skinnies up front point to the sky for at least the first 50 feet. I was trying to pump him for some build info but he was pretty tight lipped. All I got out of him is that he’s been working on it for 15 years, runs a lot of nitrous with a 10″ wide tire and that the motor is supposedly a 5.0 Ford crate motor (Windsor, not modular). Now I must say, I find it hard to believe that a Ford 302 crate motor, even with a lot of nitrous, is capable of a 8.6 s pass down the strip – I think Jonny boy may have been playing coy with me. Unfortunately, I have no choice but to take him at his word. If a small pushrod 5.0 really is pushing that Fox down the 1320 in 8.6 s, that is mighty impressive. (The video shows the final time as 8.6x). John says he’s looking to hit low eight’s next year, but again, was tight lipped about how. Well, whatever he is doing, seems to me like he’s doing it right.
Pulling Out More Cash is Always a Bad Idea
Another lazy afternoon by the pool turned to night, and feeling lucky, we headed downstairs to dance with the devil, ready to lock horns with the egregious beast that lay on the ground floor. And this would be the beginning of my demise. We wouldn’t be playing for the souls of the dead, or poker, for that matter. Rather, ace is the name, black jack is the game, and $5 a hand we would lay. From beneath my cloak, I’d sneak my phone, to check whether to hit or stay. Just kidding, basic back jack strategy is something I have committed to memory, and when I did pull out my phone to answer a text message, was told off real quick (which I find super odd, every other casino I’ve played at will let you bring a copy of the strategy and have it on the table – they don’t care, odds are still in their favor).
I was taking cards when I should be taking cards, doubling when I needed to double, and staying when I needed to stay. Unfortunately, I was just not drawing great hands. I was going up and down, up and down, not making much but not losing much either. Having won a couple hands in a row (last one being a blackjack), I upped my bet, hoping to cash in. I drew double 7’s on a dealer 7 and split, drawing a 5 for my first card. Pure. Utter. Garbage. I pulled a second (gotta hit a 12 on a dealer 7) and busted. Second hand didn’t fare much better – drew a 6 and had to hit again. Busted both hands and the dealer ended up with 20. Ouch, that was a $60 hand.
I left my table and went over to where Forster was playing and it looked like his table was hot. The players were winning 4 out of 5 hands against the house (who was busting left right and center), everyone upping their bets. I hopped in and immediately flopped. Out of 10 hands, I won 1 and pushed 1, losing the other 8. Meanwhile, the rest of the table was still riding the hot streak. Tonight was just not my night – unfortunately I had to drop $150 US (in Canadian funds, I could buy another Ford Focus with that amount) before the sad realization settled in. Alex did better, walking away $40 in the black. I chalk this up to beginners luck, because he indicated he wanted to hit when he had 18, a real noob move. Fortunately for him, the dealer was sharp and saved him from himself. He ended up winning that hand. Ug, that makes me sick.
David went up against Goliath, and this time around just could not fell the monster. But, what else can be expected? If gambling was profitable for all the David’s out there, well, a place like Vegas simply wouldn’t exist.
Follow The Series
- Giving away a 2016 Mustang GT
- The trip from Connor’s perspective
- Here’s why Andrew’s giving his 2016 GT away
- Day 1 – Montreal to Philadelphia in the Jalopy Ford Focus
- Day 2 – A Bad Break Lands Two Flat Tires
- Days 3 & 4 – Exploring Nashville, TN
- Day 5-7 – New Orleans Swamping
- The Irish Hitchhiker
- Days 8-10 – Texas Forever, Austin TX
- Days 11-12 – A Long Drive to Los Angeles
- Day 12 – Living Large in LA