The Last Time I Went to Vegas, I Barely Escaped With My Life!


The good news is this: I’m finally going to a Tableau Conference. Yes sir, this has been long over due and I’m very happy to get to experience this event!

The bad news (at least in my brain) is this: On my last trip to Vegas, I barely escaped with my life. In fact, living or dying was decided by a coin flip.

This is a true story and I’m going to prove it to you.

The First Time I visited Vegas

It was in the late afternoon of Monday, July 6, 1981, when I first breathed that furnace-hot Las Vegas air. I remember the feeling in my lungs just like it was yesterday. I stepped out of the Volkswagen Rabbit that I was riding in and I wondered how air could get that hot. How fast are those molecules moving, I wondered?

I was eighteen and in the middle of a summer-long, absolutely great adventure. The total scope of this adventure is too immense to include in this article, but I will say that it is documented on a day to day basis in the notebook show in Figure 1. Maybe one day when I slow down, I’ll take the time to recount those stories.  There are some good ones hidden in that book.


Figure 1 – My notebook from my summer of fun, circa 1981.

On this particular day, we were blasting through the desert from Cedar Break, Utah, heading to Los Angeles. We hit Vegas at the peak of the heat and we found a great buffet to eat. At that time of my life, I was able to consume massive quantities of food and I’m sure that that casino lost money on me that day.

During this long, hot day, we would have to buy gas three times, as shown in Figure 2. I remember the mirages sweeping across the road and remember the water leaving my pores throughout the day. I had never been in a true desert environment before this. Although I was only 18, the fact that I was calculating and recording gas mileage on every tank of gas was a sure sign that I was destined to be a data dork!  Mission accomplished.


Figure 2 – The day that I first visited Las Vegas.

Since I was only in Vegas for a short time during that trip, I got out alive. Eleven years later, I almost didn’t get to leave.

The Flip of A Coin

The proof of this story comes directly from my notebook and from the internet. The notebook I am referring to is the one I started early in my professional career (Figure 3).


Figure 3 – My first data analysis notebook.

I used to record daily events and sometimes I wondered why I took the time to do that. Now I know why. The reason was to be able to recount this story.

As shown in Figure 4, I was in Las Vegas from 6/17 to 6/20/1992. I was there with my best friend Dominic and some members of my family, since it was my Mom’s birthday on 6/17. Although most of my family spent their time gambling, I spent my time seeing shows and going outdoors.


Figure 4 – I was in Las Vegas from 6/17 to 6/20/92.

Since we were only there for a few days, my friend and I tried to do the most we could by getting outdoors. I wanted to show him the places that I had been to during my “summer of adventure”, since we were both Chicago city boys.

It was Thursday night, 6/18/92, when Dominic and I were deciding to do the next day. We were in our hotel room and I was perusing the tourist information that had been placed in our room.

I picked up a brochure that was from a company that offered sightseeing flights over the Grand Canyon, starting from Las Vegas. We read the material and as I told Dominic about the beauty of the Canyon, I offered up another option. I told him that we could rent a car and go see Bryce and Zion National Parks since they were less than three hours away. Since both adventures cost about the same, we decided to flip a coin to see which event we should do.

Now I’m not going to pretend I remember that the coin landed on heads or tails during that fateful flip. It didn’t matter at the time. The only thing that mattered was that fate decided we were going to rent a car to go to Utah. So that is exactly what we did.

According to my pictures and notes, we only went to Zion that Friday but got back to Vegas early enough to see an Improv show. The next day, Saturday, we spent our last day mountain climbing at Red Rocks before boarding a red-eye flight to Chicago.

A couple of minutes of planting my butt in that hot airplane seat, this story was permanently emblazened in my brain. I remember flipping open the Las Vegas newspaper and seeing the story that caused me to have an adrenaline burst. The flight that we were going to take to the Canyon, crashed and all occupants died. Figure 5 is the story of that tragic event.


Figure 5 – The story of the plane crash that I could have been on if the coin landed the other way.

Final Thoughts

Life is full of uncertainty and it ends too quickly. Enjoy it while you can.  I close with a few pics from a great day yesterday – Jett’s fourth birthday party.


Jett turns 4!


Jett and Toni.


Jett getting set to fly!


The launch of the birthday note!

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