LAS VEGAS – She took a tumble on the trapeze. But the tattoo gun was cool. And she picked up a few magic tricks, to boot.
Kayla Gregoire of Timmins recently returned from competing in Expedia.ca’s “Sinternship” program in Las Vegas, putting herself in some crazy but unforgettable situations as she and other Canadians explored awesome aspects of the city with Expedia.ca’s Las Vegas experts, on the ground locals who have been brought on board with Canada’s leading online travel provider to help craft customized travel itineraries that feature activities and attractions for every type of Vegas tourist.
Gregoire said her Sintership program earlier this year “was one of the best experiences of my life.”
Gregoire was one of a half-dozen Canadian participants in the contest, an honour she won by making a video for Expedia.ca in which she mixed a drink while riding down a snow-covered hill on a toboggan. Apparently no extra stirring was required.
She and the other finalists in the Sinternship contest took part in a variety of challenges in Las Vegas, including drawing a tattoo (on fake skin), playing poker with a long-time card dealer and even trying their hands (and feet) on a flying trapeze.
“I was excited and nervous throughout every single challenge,” Gregoire said. “I was always questioning whether or not I was doing it the way they wanted it to be done. I kept thinking, if only I had done this, or that, I would’ve won for sure. I had to laugh though when I didn’t win the driving challenge or the Texas hold ‘em (poker) challenge, because I claim to be really good at both). Especially the Texas hold ’em; I had my family laughing at me that I didn’t win because we play together all the time.”
Gregoire said she could never have picture herself trying to draw a tattoo, something she was able to try with the help of expert Joey Hamilton, season three winner on the TV show “Ink Master.”
“Going into the challenge, I openly admitted to the other contestants that I am the least artistic person you’ll meet. So you can understand my surprise when I not only won the challenge, but when Joey Hamilton was telling me that I had a career in tattooing if I ever wanted to put in the time. Which, by the way, I won’t, because I’m still the least artistic person.
When it came to the magic tricks, they had to get up on stage and create a skit/presentation of tricks they had been taught, including making cups of water disappear.
“I chose to do a Vegas gambling theme with my act and allude to the fact that the handkerchief and subsequent water were money, and as Vegas does, my money disappeared.”
“I’m happy to say I’m still impressing my friends and family with my new tricks,” she said.
Gregoire had always wanted to try the trapeze.
“But the second I got there I became extremely nervous after watching what they were expecting us to do. The routine looked long, difficult, and for an uncoordinated person it turns out I was right to be nervous. I thought I was getting the hang of it, until that is I unhooked the wrong foot from the trapeze and I came tumbling down. After quite a few screams from the Expedia.ca crew and crash landing on the gym mat, I picked myself up with my hurt pride and I got back on. I had a lot of fun performing my routine but I was so focused I forgot to smile and let that fun show in my face! And it wasn’t until later that night I realized that I was actually bruised and sore in quite a few places. Just a few battle scars I suppose, but totally worth it.”
“It was a huge part in allowing us get to know each other and discuss the highs and lows of the day. We got to try some amazing food at Five50 at Aria, Holstein’s at Cosmopolitan, and Rao’s at Caesars Palace. We were also given tickets to Absinthe on our last night which I have to say is the best show I’ve seen in Vegas so far.”
They also were put up for several nights at the super-fun Planet Hollywood Hotel/Resort in the heart of the Las Vegas strip.
“All in all, it was amazing!”
At the end of the day, Gregoire was deemed top Sinternship contestant and won the grand prize; the “Ultimate Vegas weekend” for her and three friends.
As a gesture of congratulations for the rest of the group on their hard work and good effort, Expedia.ca also gave away a Vegas trip for two to the other Sinternship participants.
There’s a great YouTube video you can check out on how it all came about, too.
Some members of the media, myself included, were in Las Vegas at the same time as the Sintership participants and were able to interview Expedia.ca Vegas experts. I can’t say they convinced me to get a tattoo or take up a life of poker or ditch my travel career for a posting as a bartender, but I was able to meet up and chat with renowned tattoo artist Joey Hamilton, celebrity mixologist Eric Hobbie and the delightful Sam LoGiudice, a Buffalo native who played poker for a living for years and also trained the poker staff at the legendary Mirage casino.
Over a deck of cards at one of the cities casinos, LoGiudice doled out poker tips and also talked about the city he loves.
“Vegas is great,” he said. “It’s a 24-hour town. If you get off work at 2 or 3 a.m. you can go to the movies or get a meal or buy your groceries. I used to drive home a half hour at night to Henderson, Nevada. It’d be 90 degrees (Fahrenheit) but if you roll the windows down it feels like 70. It’s fantastic.”
He’s also a serious golfer and frequently tees it up at courses such as Paiute and Painted Desert.
“I never called myself a poker professional,” said the unassuming LoGiudice. “I didn’t go to college for it. I didn’t have any training. Sometimes I’ll meet some young person and they’ll introduce themselves as a professional poker player. I’ll ask how long they’ve been at it and they’ll say, ‘Oh, three weeks.’”
It’s a tough life when you try to make your living at poker, he said. You have to have faith and you have to have patience to get through the bad streaks. You also have to have money to fall back on when things dry up.
“Everyone who does this has eaten ketchup soup once or twice,” he said with a laugh.
LoGiudice said he’s worked on various events such as the World Series of Poker and also has played with sports stars such as golfer Phil Mickelson and Don Shula, the former Miami Dolphins coach. To a man, they were nice guys, he said. But not very good poker players.
So, what are some of the keys to playing poker successfully? For LoGiudice, a lot of it comes down to studying people. A good hand is great, but a good poker player can clean up with a poor set of cards if they know how to play their opponents.
“When I go to a table I see who has the most chips. I see how they’re stacked; neat or messy. If they’re too neat maybe the guy is milque toast. I might be able to bully them later on. If it’s a messy stack they might be more aggressive. So I use that information.”
He also studies mannerisms and someone’s physical state.
“If they’re breathing heavy and their pulse is beating in their neck, they probably have a good hand. But then if they won’t look at you they might be bluffing. I once played with a guy who said he was a pro but he got a great hand and his blood started flowing and his ears turned red. He didn’t know and he couldn’t help it.”
LoGiudice said he’s learned to make his pulse stay even.
“My hands don’t tremble, and I never change expression. Which is maybe why some people call me a scary old man.”
He smiles broadly at the thought and I decide this is a guy I’d want to be friends with if I ever moved to Vegas. He’s a fascinating guy. But I also had a fun chatting with Hamilton about tattoos, something I’d never given much thought to.
Hamilton, who recently opened a new tattoo parlour near the Hard Rock Casino called “Revolt,” said he doesn’t like the way many folks conduct the business in Sin City.
“There’s too many people taking advantage of folks. I won’t give anyone a tattoo if they’re drunk or high.”
Hamilton said tattoo artists are just that, artists.
“It’s the same techniques as painting; layering and colours and such. The biggest thing is that the canvas moves.”
Hamilton said he finds portraits to be a challenge.
“There’s no room for error when you’re tattooing someone’s face,” he said. “A face has to be perfect. With an animal you can be off a little bit.”
The Las Vegas symbol is a popular choice, as are flaming dice and roulette tables, said Hamilton, winner of the Ink Master Season 3 TV show. One guy from Atlanta asked him to do a tattoo of a dog on a cross, like Jesus. He thought it was a little odd, but he did it.
“I’ve seen it all, but I don’t judge people.”
Hamilton said he’s been asked to do some rather, um, suggestive tattoos. And he’s been asked to perform his work on rather private parts of folks’ anatomy.
“But I won’t tattoo a guy below the waist,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t need the money that badly.”
Hamilton said he enjoys going to see a good fight in Vegas. He also loves the Absinthe show (as did Gregoire), as well as Gordon Ramsay’s food places and Bobby Flay’s restaurants.
James Reza is an Expedia.ca Vegas expert who writes a column in a local magazine, answering questions about city.
“People talked for years about making Vegas more walkable and urban, and it’s happening,” he said over breakfast at a downtown spot called EAT, near the highly successful Container Park development on Fremont St. East. “I just spent three hours the other day at a bookstore in the area called Writers’ Block. That’s something I used to go on vacation to do.”
Reza said folks outside of Vegas sometimes think everyone who lives there has a father in the Mob and a mother who’s a show girl. But it’s actually a very normal place, with wonderful nature all around and a vibrant cultural scene.
“It used to be that all the theatres were in the casinos, but now they’re spread all over town. All the artists and musicians like to go out after they play so there are great clubs and live music spots where they can play or hang out.”
Old loft buildings downtown are being spruced up and hipster types are moving into the area, he said.
The other Expedia.ca expert I was able to chat with was Eric Hobbie, head bartender/mixologist at Giada, a fantastic restaurant run by celebrity chef Giada de Laurentiis inside the posh, new Cromwell Hotel. He’s an experienced restaurateur/bartender who’s worked with such stars as Charlie Trotter and Mario Batali.
“The biggest thing to me is hospitality,” he explains. “I stay in contact with my customers. I might even send them some of my homemade limoncello.”
As part of his Expedia.ca duties, Hobbie whipped up a Singapore Sling, an Old-Fashioned and a Cosmopolitan for the visiting media to sample. He takes great care by using quality ingredients and small touches such as rubbing the rim of a glass with an orange to release the oils, rather than just dropping the fruit in the bottom of a glass.
“I love my job because all the biggest deals in the world are done around a table. And I like how the bartender stands up higher than other folks, like a maestro.”
Dealing with people and defusing awkward situations is a part of the job, Hobbie explains.
“You need to be able to read people and learn their safety zones or comfort zones. I like to have fun and talk about dumb things I did when I was a kid. But you also have to be a mediator. Sometimes you have to tell a guy the woman at the end of the bar doesn’t like the vibes he’s giving off, that sort of thing.”
Hobbie said Vegas has become much more sophisticated in the last few years. You still get folks buying $2 beers off the street or drinking garish concoctions at equally garish bars, but there also are high-end mixologists experimenting with new flavours and new ingredients.