Sonja Sohn at Bouchon

While dining at upscale Bouchon restaurant in the Venetian, TB noticed a woman she thought she recognized seated behind me enjoying dinner with a white guy with dreadlocks. She leaned toward me and asked if the woman over my right shoulder looked familiar. I turned my head casually and saw a face I had grown accustomed to seeing on a weekly basis around this time of year during the last four-odd years. It was indeed Sonja Sohn. I would later learn, through my incomparable Wikipedia referencing skills, the gentleman with her was her husband, Australian musician Adam Plack.

Fans of the hit HBO series, The Wire, know her as the inimitable Shakima “Kima” Greggs. In fact, that is who TB and I remembered her as until we consulted with Sister Char via a quick telephone call—TB actually knew her first name but couldn’t recall her surname. Char replied with her government name instantly: She has been a Sonja Sohn fan since her role as Lauren Bell in Slam. Regrettably, I had forgotten all about Slam but I remember vividly TB and I having our first introduction to Ms. Sohn and The Wire during a marathon DVD-watching session while on our honeymoon in 2004. We literally sat in the bed for hours, under mosquito netting on Benguerra Island, Mozambique, captivated by the characters and storyline unfolding in front of our eyes on the laptop screen.

Sidebar:
Benguerra Island is in the Indian ocean off the coast of Mozambique and Marlin Lodge, where we stayed, was powered by generator. As a result, the little bit of electricity available was used for cooking, AC and basic lighting. There wasn’t much to do (“no TVs, no telephones, no snacks, no stores, very little ice and minimal refrigeration”) once the sun went down except relax and hang out together. It was perfect.

Ms. Sohn and her husband were just finishing their meal as we prepared to leave. TB and I ambled up to their table, determined not to miss an opportunity to express our appreciation of her work which has provided us hours of entertainment since Mozambique. Both were very warm and down-to-earth and she seemed genuinely appreciative to receive TB’s kind words. I remained in the background nodding and smiling. Ms. Sohn caught both TB and me by surprise when she asked our names and reached out to shake our hands. She asked if we enjoyed our dinner and told us to be sure we watch tomorrow night. We bid them a good evening and were off.

The timing of our meeting could not have been more appropriate. The Wire comes to an end with the final episode airing tomorrow night. If you aren’t already a fan, go grab the DVDs from Netflix or Blockbuster. It really is a quality show composed of quality people like Ms. Sohn.

(Bouchon is excellent. I’ve dined there twice now. The food is exquisite, the service impeccable, the vibe divine. Try the monkfish and French green lentils entree if it is on the dinner specials menu. Have their signature pomme frites as an appetizer. Make a reservation.)

Wishing Whale

It’s 2:15 AM and I’m just returning to my hotel room…so much for getting some rest. I’ve been coming to Vegas a lot the last few years but I’ve spent the last two hours witnessing a personal first.

I enjoy gambling. I hit a jackpot playing slots a few years ago and I have always enjoyed the camaraderie of a packed craps table. I also enjoy watching people gamble. There is something about seeing someone hit a nice streak or take a big risk and come out ahead. Tonight, I didn’t gamble—I actually haven’t gambled at all so far this trip—but I did witness my first whale (aka “high roller”) in action playing craps. It was disgustingly amazing to see how he rolled (both literally and figuratively) putting a very decent salary at risk with each toss of the dice.

I don’t know who the guy is (the dealers wouldn’t tell me for privacy reasons) but I will never forget his face. He showed no emotion whether up big or down big. He didn’t seem like he gambled for pleasure. He damn sure didn’t need the money. He obviously didn’t mind the attention of the small crowd watching him play since he was in the main casino and not the high roller room. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

I was watching a group of 8 people play craps at a $15 minimum table at the Venetian. It was a roller-coaster ride with no one ever getting up big and many people going bust. After about 30 minutes, I heard the stick man at the craps table over my shoulder say “new shooter coming out” so I turned around to see who was playing at a table that was deserted just moments before. There was a single man at the far end of the table with a decent rack of chips. He was playing craps alone. “How boring,” I thought. I walked around to see what the table limit was, only to discover there was no limit listed and the table was reserved. Now I was really curious. I watched the gentleman in his mid-50s roll a dozen or so times, crap out, roll a dozen or so times and crap out again. I was trying to understand his betting pattern since I am always on the lookout for clues to improve my game. This guy was obviously somebody since the table was reserved but I had no idea how much he was gambling with each roll of the dice, because, frankly, I’d never seen chips those colors in rotation before.

I watched for another 30 minutes before stretching my legs by walking down to the empty craps table behind him where the three shiftless dealers were craning their necks watching him in play. I asked the dealer at that table, “How much are the yellow chips?” “$1,000 each,” he said. “I notice he’s putting a lot of those on the hard ways,” I offered. “That guy is betting mostly with chocolate chips. Those are worth $5,000 each,” he replied. “With each roll he has between $120,000 and $130,000 on the table,” he continued. I looked at him like “yeah right,” walked back to my previous whale watching post, and started scanning the table to tally the chips he had in action. Sure enough, he had $60,000 on each number across the top ($10,000 each on 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10), $40,000 on the pass line including his odds and $12,000 each on the hard 4 and hard 10!

With each roll of the dice, he was risking $124,000! I watched him roll about 10 times per minute on average over a 2 hour period—he was like a machine. That’s 1,200 rolls of the dice. That’s over $148 million in action/exposure at the extreme end of putting things into perspective. He took one restroom break and paused for over a minute, during one long winning streak, to light up a big cigar. He was up $220,000 at one point with about $800,000 in the tray (I heard the dealer tell the pit boss) and he was down over $250,000 at the lowest point during my watch (he took out markers/loans from the casino at least two dozen times). I thought for sure he would either bust or go up at least a million and quit before I got tired of watching. Neither happened. That dude is still down there playing. When I left he was into the casino about $160,000.

My future craps outings just won’t be the same. However, I did learn how the big stakes players play and it’s true, with a big enough bankroll, you can play craps forever. Me? I would have walked away with that $220,000 but that’s probably private jet gas money for that guy considering he risked more than that with just two rolls.

Playing to Wynn

I have a few minutes to check in before my next activity. I was up at 5 AM yesterday and didn’t turn in until 2 AM today. This is going to be a long week. The UX Summit went from 8 AM to 6:30 PM and we dined as a group in the private dining room of the upscale Daniel Boulud restaurant inside the Wynn hotel. There were 50 of us and, as co-host, I made the rounds throughout the evening and was in the last group to leave. The four-course dinner didn’t wrap up until 11 PM(!) but the evening still didn’t end.

A smaller group of us walked back to the Venetian and watched a colleague play roulette for about 30 minutes. We then went to the V Bar (also in the Venetian) and talked over drinks. I finally called it a night and headed to my room just after 1 AM to prepare for Day 2.

Day 1 of the Summit was great based on attendee participation and feedback. My presentation went smoothly and I successfully rolled out the marketing strategy for the duration of the fiscal year and ahead into FY2009. We started on time, ended on time and kept everyone engaged, which is an accomplishment for such a long day holed up in a hotel conference room.

Today I was up at 6 AM and we just wrapped up again at 6:30 PM. I am double-booked for dinner tonight with the Summit attendees dinner and an invitation-only event with key partners & press from Japan. (You may recall they love me over in Tokyo after Remix last fall…Keith-san Ichiban is back!)

Day 2 of the Summit was another long haul but it’s done and the event was a resounding success. Tomorrow is the big event, MIX, and I have a day/evening full of press briefings and press events following the 3-hour keynote. I’d better get some sleep. Perhaps after watching the presidential primary coverage while the results from Ohio and Texas are analyzed.