The Bouncing Spare Tire of Death & Other Vegas Short Stories

For some time, my dad and his friends have made it a tradition to fly to Vegas the weekend of the Sweet 16 and the Elite Eight.  The last few years, my younger brother and I joined the group.

I’d heard legendary tales of Vegas trips over the years.  Stories which still bring laughs from witnesses that surely rival the fateful night of the actual event.

The Attacking Bush at the Rio that swallowed any unfortunate, drunken wanderer who stumbled too close (and the wanderer’s claim that he was pushed).  Heated arguments between skinny men and the Mack Truck-sized blackjack dealer who made players signal “Stay” even when the skinny men’s cards showed 21.  And so on.

I don’t pretend the following stories are legendary, but they are the brief memories that stand out from the last few days.  Forgive the moments in my mind blurred, altered, or erased by a need to keep up with the flow of the night.

Indian petroglyphs in the Nevada mountains near Laughlin. These were carved sometime between 1100 and 1900 A.D. Them archaeologists really know how to narrow it down for you, eh?


I thought a 7:30 a.m. departure out of Kansas City was surely a flight that could be categorized as “early.”

However, we weren’t at maximum cruising altitude much longer than 20 minutes when I spotted the flight attendant walk by with a Bud Light and a mini-shot.  She repeated the action later in the flight (and I suspect I only noticed a portion of her liquor runs as I intermittently napped and read my book of choice for the trip).

The liquor’s destination revealed itself about 45 minutes before landing in the form of howling idiots at the back of the plane who clearly didn’t comprehend the volume of their voices.  Gentlemen, if ever there was a competition for fastest start to a Vegas trip, someone will now have to tie you.


My brother, Marcus, had the fortune to cross paths with a bachelorette party on the second day of the trip.  They had a long list of things they had to ask men.

Marc was made to show his abs, much to the group’s approval.  A particularly intoxicated girl apparently slurred her room number and told Marc to drop by around midnight.


Since we clearly take these trips so seriously, assignments are handed out to the various members of our posse.  My father took perhaps (not perhaps, definitely) the most noble position of 12-passenger van designated driver.

We had a navigator, someone assigned to spot and call out speed bumps, and another “Yes/No” man who shouted to Dad whether it was okay to change lanes.  I was Hooker Cliff.

This is a little like asking me how to play cricket.  Just as I’m aware of the bowler’s existence in cricket but not where he stands on the field, I can take a guess on the Vegas Strip…but that may simply be a tourist in an incredibly short mini-skirt.

Of course, I was simply spotting (poorly).  Our group’s money is spent at the casinos, and we’re about as threatening as the lethal injection table in Kansas (quick history lesson:  the last inmates executed in Kansas were hanged in the summer of 1965).


Our resident sports gambling guru assured us his NCAA Sweet 16 parlay was infallible.  As we drove to Laughlin (where we actually spent a majority of our trip), he gathered money on his “sure thing” from the group.

I’ve been told by a close friend that making a parlay bet during March Madness is itself madness and a fool’s bet.  However, our guru collected $10 here and $20 there on Friday from each member of our party.  He counted $90 community money and added his own lion’s share to round out a couple hundred dollars worth of parlay “futility.”  We were all on the honor system to track what we’d contributed to the pot.

Our guru hit.  His instincts were true for a nice little first-day payday.  On Saturday, our honor-system contribution claims added up to $270.


Our clan has a distinct way of celebrating any blackjack table bust.  We do The Wave.  If the dealer busts and we’re all still in the hand, we throw our hands to the sky and shout as though $5 or $10 just healed us.

On our last night, we had the fortune to celebrate several times, much to the amusement/surprise of each new dealer who reached our table.

During our first Wave with new dealer Beba, she looked up to our fingertips in confusion and then returned her focus to the cards as if she now had a real chore on her hands.

In a thick Bulgarian accent, she muttered, “So that’s how it’s gonna be.”


As I said, my father had the noble position of designated driver.  The fact he was driving a 12-passenger van compounded this hardship.

As we drove back from Laughlin to Vegas early Sunday afternoon for our last night of fun in Sin City, an RV ahead of us nearly made us pay for their inability to secure a spare tire.

I was trying to decide if my work-issue iPhone was misbehaving from lack of signal or my incompetence when I heard a commotion up front of the van.  I looked up to see a tire bouncing in the road directly in front of us.

Instead of shouting to my dad that he was safe to merge left, the passengers in the van (myself included) mostly took a huge gasp and participated in various levels of soiling ourselves.

Dad veered correctly and the tire took a lucky bounce to the right.  By next year, the tire will have blown off a massive semi and Dad expertly veered just in time to miss an eight-foot-high bounce from a mass of rubber and steel that wouldn’t be denied.


Scott Roeder’s sentencing hearing is set for Thursday.  I’ve written about Roeder’s trial in this blog before, and I suspect I’ll do so again after the hearing.

Roeder will have another chance to speak in court, but for the first time, Dr. George Tiller’s family will also have a chance to speak to his murderer.  I’m still trying to get in touch with the family’s lawyer to see who, if anyone, plans to speak Thursday.

Stay tuned.


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