Tomorrow my road trip summer continues as I take off to Las Vegas. My friend Dan and I will be departing from Missoula and we will meet up with my brother and his four friends who are flying into Sin City via Seattle. I am a Vegas fanatic. Since I have turned 21, I have already made four trips there. Tomorrow will mark my fifth. Some people get tired of Vegas and one trip is enough for them. Not me. In my opinion, Las Vegas is the ultimate adrenaline rush. You do whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it. I swear the hangover gods look down on everyone in the city because while I am there, I go all day and all night long and never feel any ill effects. No hang overs/grogginess/sick feeling at all. I don’t know how to explain it. The minute I get on the plane my body shuts down.
So as I mentioned, this is my fifth time going to Vegas in the past three years. I feel I know the city well enough now. Vegas is the type of city that really will chew you up and spit you out. Besides obviously the gambling, everywhere around you there are gimmicks, schemes, and rip offs ready to take advantage of you and possibly ruin your vacation. Luckily, I feel I know how to protect myself. Yes, I have made several bad mistakes in Vegas over the past three years. My head does not always think straight. My mom will not even talk to me through phone or text while I am down there because she says “Only bad things happen to you down there.” Well, she exaggerates. However, one really bad thing did happen to me down there when I was a dumb rookie in Vegas and had no idea about the inner-workings of the city. I learned a lesson I will never forget. Here is the story.
Dan and I in Vegas for the first time
It was exactly 3 years ago. I was a fresh 21 year old who was celebrating the end of the school year by going to Vegas. Coincidently, I went with Dan as well on this trip (the guy I am traveling with this time around). It was our first night in Las Vegas. Of course, we hit it as hard as anyone could hit it. We had never really experienced anything like what the adult playground of Las Vegas actually is. We were on top of the world. It was approaching 4am and we were going back to the Excalibur to gamble for the last couple of dark hours. There was a huge street in front of us. The street had 4 lanes going each way and it was divided by medians and a small fence. To get across the street they had a walkway bridge type deal. You walk up stairs and then there is a sidewalk area that takes you across. Once you get across, you take the opposite flight of stairs that takes you back down to street level. Instead of acting like a human and using the bridge, I decided to run across the street, using my athletic skills and liquid courage to jump the median and the fence. Mistake #1.
Dan was smart and crossed the street the proper way by using the stairs. Because of this, he was about two minutes behind me. So the minute I make it to the other side of the street, a car is coming full speed right at me. For a second my mind cleared and I realized I might get ran over. Luckily, the brakes slam and the car stops right at my feet. The window opens.
“Hey baby, what are you up to? Want to hang out with us?”
Two African-american females, a few years older than me, are in this car. Not hot, not ugly, just girls. The one in the passenger seat was doing all the talking. “How long you in Vegas for? Get in the car. Come on, it will be fun.” I kept trying to get a hold of Dan to hurry up and come assess the situation with me. I keep telling the girl that I have to wait for my friend. She is starting to get impatient. Suddenly, Dan calls my phone. The girl grabs the phone from my hand and puts it to her ear and yells, “Get the f!@# over here and let’s hang out.” Dan finally finds us and the two of us look at each other with a ‘why not’ type of look and we tell the girls we will roll with them. The girl in the passenger seat gets in the backseat with me and Dan takes shotgun next to the other girl. To this day, Dan and I still say it was the scariest time we have ever been in a car before. Sadly, these girls were high on who knows what drugs. We were weaving in and out of lanes, speeding at a dangerous rate, braking hard at the most random times. The girl must have owned the streets of Las Vegas. We drove around a while, got to know them a little bit. They claimed to be from Atlanta and they came out to Vegas for some marketing thing. At a point in the ride, we stopped at an ATM cause we made a stop at a 7/11. I used my card to withdraw some money. I remember pulling out a bunch of cards to get to my debit card because back then I rarely ever used it. My cards were all over the seat. Daylight started to creep in, and the girls dropped us off at our hotel. The girl with me in the backseat made sure I put all my cards back in my wallet and we said goodbye. Dan and I thought it was a pretty good first night in Vegas.
Fast forward 72 hours. It is 5:30am and Dan and I are in the airport waiting to board our plane. There is no worst flight in the world. It is awful. Allegiant Air, the airline we travel for service from Missoula to/from Vegas, has had this flight time forever (6am). Something really needs to be done about it. Anyways, we are hating out lives dreading the plane ride when I decide to open my wallet and go to where all of my cards are because I needed to find my card I had written our arrival information on. I immediately realize that my debit card is missing. Again, three years ago, I never used my debit card on a regular basis. I would just take out sums of cash and use it for all of my transactions. So this is how I never really knew it was missing in the first place. I had around $3,000 in my checking account at the time. I frantically used my phone to dial U.S. Bank to hear my account balance. Whenever I would do this in the past I could always anticipate the automated voice saying my balance of around $3,000. This time, it was way different. I listen in to the automated voice: “Your account balance for June ____, 2008 is….OVERDRAWN.” I freaked out. I broke out into a sweat. I yelled at some belligerently drunk girl who was making a scene at the gate and decided to sit on my lap. (Side story: After that episode, the flight officials denied her boarding onto the plane while her other five friends had to leave her behind. Dan told me I was a jerk but honestly, control yourself at the airport. I was glad she got kicked off). I called my mom and she was able to cancel the account right away. Actually, after the card had been overdrawn $500, it was immediately suspended.
I was crushed. To a 21 year old college student, $3,000 is a lot of money. It was all the money I had saved up from working road construction and from working long hours on campus as a resident assistant. It was a very long plane trip home.
On the trip back, I kept thinking of all the possibilities for how my card could have been taken. I knew in the back of my mind who had took it, but I was exhausting all options. Bottom line is, to make purchases these days with debit cards, many places require you to type in your pin. In my wallet, I had a piece of paper with my pin number on it. Stupid, I know. But again, when you don’t use your card a lot, you do things like that. I came to terms with who took it.
In the following hours after I got off the plane and I hauled my ass to a U.S. Bank, it became very clear that it was my “friend” from the first night who took my card. On my account history statement, there were 13 different transactions on it. All of them were either 7/11 or Wal-Mart. The stores alternated and the locations were all different yet they were all to either 7/11 or Wal-Mart. Purchases made ranged from $60 up to $500. The dates and times of the transactions all took place during the 24 hours after we met the “Atlanta Girls.” One funny story before I get to the lesson I learned. I told you how we stopped at an ATM to get cash so we could stop at 7/11, right? Well after we got to the ATM and arrived at the 7/11, the girl insisted she would buy. I thought that was pretty weird but whatever. She went in and got all of us drinks and food while we waited. We thought she was being nice. Nope, it turned out I was treating everyone and did not even know it.
Believe it or not, I got every cent credited back to my account. It was a long process, but the investigation that U.S. Bank did left absolutely no doubt that the charges were fraudulent. It should also be noted that I had a wonderful time in Vegas. I had no idea my card was missing so I got to enjoy my time down there. However, I did learn to be very weary of the people. I was robbed blind and there is no way in hell that is ever going to happen again. That was probably the only time in my life that I violated my life motto…Don’t Blink.