Sunday, July 14, 2019

A Tape Face franchise?

I couldn't help but share thoughts on a fresh new blog post by the fine folks at Vital Vegas. (It's one guy!)

I posted most of my comments below on Scott's blog, but I'll replicate them here, with one addendum and a few clarifications. Most important, if you want the commentary below about Vegas headliner Tape Face to make any sense, read Scott's fresh, new and exciting blog post first. It's right here: Vital Vegas hyperlink

Here's my three cents, two I shared on his blog, and one I added:

When Bon Jovi comes to Vegas and plays a concert, you’re not getting the band that recorded “Slippery When Wet.” Richie Sambora ain’t in the band.

People come and go in bands. That’s the nature of bands. But typically it’s well known. Nobody is fooled into thinking they’re seeing Sambora on guitar in 2019.

KISS is a more interesting band. They switched out guys in the 80s and 90s, then reunited the original band in the latter half of the 90s, and are back to mixing and matching. Of course, for the last 15+ years they’ve had different musicians playing the roles of the Space Man and the Cat, two of the four costumed musicians from the 70s. It’s all very public.

And it offended some longtime, hard core KISS fans. The original KISS members doubled as characters, but a lot of fans didn’t like that they hired replacements rather than bring in new characters in the early 2000s, as they did in the early 80s before KISS was “unmasked.”

It seems shady to sell the persona of Ace Frehley and Peter Criss in the 2000s, but KISS has enough fans that they’ve kept making money. Some people claimed they no longer wanted to support the entity, but plenty of people don’t seem to care, so KISS continues printing money, and Tape Face is taking a page from Gene Simmons’ playbook.

For what little I know, I agree: Tape Face has been known as, and associated with, one person. I don’t know the history, but I’m guessing there were others who helped “Sam,” the actor/comedian behind the tape, develop his act. But it was his act, I’m guessing, not the act of an ensemble who took turns doing the shtick. To suddenly franchise it out seems insulting to the fans.

While it shouldn’t be trusted, there’s no suggestion I saw to indicate that Tape Face is a brand, according to Sam’s Wikipedia page. I’m going to guess the paint is still drying on the branding. Awfully convenient, all of a sudden, that his longtime character is a brand, don’tcha think?

It’d be one thing if Tape was retiring, and his son was following in his footsteps, and he handed off the character to his son. But to simply train another performer seems fraudulent, unless you’re selling it as Tape Face, Too, and making it clear who you’re getting on stage.

I would be pissed if I paid to see Carrot Top and showed up to find out that another guy with curly red hair is telling the jokes that night, and pretending to be Carrot Top.

The Tape Face corporation may be noting Sam has a protege via social media, but it sounds like the corporation is trying to monetize the shtick with its own franchise employees and not be forthcoming about it. That’s dirty business, no matter how you justify it.

Reminds me of the odd story of how there were two comedians selling the comedy of Gallagher, the odd comedian who got big laughs for smashing produce with a sledgehammer. This paragraph tells a bit about the bizarre dueling Gallaghers: Gallagher Two hyperlink

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Virtual Las Vegas: What a strange world it is

Here's a little exercise I like to challenge people with occasionally: When did you first learn about the Internet?

I knew of the Internet back in the 1980s, although I don't think anyone referred to it as the Internet. But I knew that through the power of a computer, telephone and acoustic coupler, you could connect to the world in a way I never dreamed of. And I certainly never dreamed of buying comic books (I collected them) through a computer, and having them delivered to my door, without ever leaving the house. Needless to say, there's a lot of things I never imagined using a computer to do. And here I am, doing a variety of things every week that I never would have believed were possible 25 years ago.

A photo of an acoustic coupler. I don't remember where I lifted it, but I found it via Google. This was how we did the Internet in the 1980s, before anyone knew what the Internet was.
I don't know when I learned of the Internet that we know and love today. I do know that I had dabbled with it prior to May 1997, when I left a desolate, Canadian-like community for my triumphant return to the big city. I had used email and accessed websites through a community college computer system, but those opportunities were few and far between. Cellphones were a luxury at that time, I would never have imagined I'd not only come to rely upon one, but that it would essentially become a computer.

But to this day I don't remember when I first understood the concept of the modern Internet. I would assume it was at some point during 1996.

Moral of the story: This powerful tool I use daily, many times per day, was non-existent in my world 25 years ago.

My first trip to Las Vegas occurred in January 1997. At that point it never occurred to me that I might want to seek information about Sin City via the Internet, which I had limited access to. Who knows what I might have found in late 1996. Not a hell of a lot, I'd bet.

I've been reflecting upon how my world, and my relationship with Vegas, has changed as a result of the Internet. A recent change in my online world signaled the time to finally put a few of those thoughts into words.

I have used Vegas message forums for a long time. The message forum was my first introduction to the world of Vegas chatting, and I believe it's still the best. But message forums are not as popular as they once were. I have been a member of a few Vegas forums over the years, and continue to use one to this day.

Part of the reason forums have lost their luster -- perhaps the main reason -- is Facebook. Today we have Facebook groups that bring people together when they have a shared interest. There are plenty of Vegas groups, big and small, available through Facebook. I belong to a handful, but I don't actively use most of them.

I find Facebook groups are less effective ways to share information, but I get why they're popular. Facebook is, if you believe online statistics, the third most popular website on the planet, behind Google and YouTube. A website that exists primarily for the purpose of personal communication, and is open to the masses, is the perfect place for Vegas enthusiasts to connect and chat. You have a question about Vegas that you need an answer to? You join a Vegas group and you have hundreds or thousands of people available to answer. And you're already on Facebook anyway, posting pictures of your cute kids. Could it be any easier?

The drawback to Facebook groups is that you don't have categories of discussions. Go to a Vegas forum and you might find sections dedicated to the strip, downtown, off-strip casinos, gambling strategy, transportation and bargains. You can search for topics by keyword on Facebook, but Facebook's groups are not highly organized. That's why a Vegas message forum is still an important resource for me after more than 15 years.

One of the great things about the Internet is that it has opened up so many opportunities for those of use who use a computer. I had no idea in 1997 that I'd go to Vegas more than 40 times during the next 25 years of my life. And I certainly didn't dream that I'd be one of many voices in the online world sharing thoughts about a popular vacation destination. Yet here I am.

And I'm not even a blip on the radar. There are folks who do far more interesting, far more compelling work than I do. If you're reading this, then chances are you are familiar with Vital Vegas and Vegas Unfiltered.

Vital Vegas provides inside scoop like nobody can. I've been reading it for years, and rarely does a day go by without me checking it for new content. Vegas Unfiltered provides interesting content that's hard to find anywhere else these days. Both of the blogs are one-man operations, and the authors are well connected, but their websites don't exist to generate income, as best I can tell. I've been fortunate enough to meet the authors of both of these blogs during my visits to Vegas. I never imagined meeting total strangers when I first visited Vegas in 1997. And thanks to the Internet I've been reading the writing of two people I'd have otherwise never met. How cool is that?

The users of Facebook groups and message forums like to organize social gatherings, and that makes total sense. When you communicate with a group of people for an extended period of time, it seems like a natural thing to want to meet the faces behind the screen name. I don't make it a priority to meet up with groups of strangers, but I've done it occasionally.

On Halloween morning, 2011, I met up with a small group of message forum users at the El Cortez. I don't remember much about that group, other than our de facto leader that day was a gentleman named Dewey. Dewey is one of those guys who contributes a lot, is well liked and finds his way to Vegas now and again. Or at least he did until recently.

I have appreciated everything Dewey has offered to the online world, either through the message forum or through his own blog writing, and I've managed to keep in touch with him. We may only trade messages a couple of times per year, but that has been going on for more than seven years. And we did manage to meet up again a few years after that first meeting, when another Halloween trip overlapped. Dewey is that cool guy in high school that everybody wanted to be friends with, and I am lucky enough to be able to brag that Dewey is a friend of mine.

For my Halloween 2016 trip I was staying at The Plaza. That hotel just happened to be the home base of a couple of people from the Facebook group Everything Las Vegas. I was actively using the group at the time, and despite my aversion to mixing and mingling with a group of relative strangers, I stopped into their early evening social gathering for 30 minutes. I was able to meet a few of the group's leaders and regular members, people I recognized by name and face. It was a nice perk of being a part of that group. I hope I get to enjoy another such gathering some day, even if nobody remembers me more than two years later.

There are great resources online, and great people behind them, usually. After an hour of reminiscing, I'll close for now and plan to continue my online reflections in a second chapter about Virtual Las Vegas. Despite the fact it takes me weeks to put thoughts together, I'll bend over backwards to keep it from being six weeks before I finish what I've started.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

How much help does the north end of the strip need?

I don't make enough time for creative writing. I love writing, I really do. But it's not the most efficient way of communicating thoughts and ideas, and I'm not the most colorful, animated writer out there.

If I lived in Vegas I'd definitely be producing video content in conjunction with, or in place of, this blog.

I don't religiously watch any of the Vegas "vlogger" channels on YouTube. The one I watch the most often is often not Vegas-specific, but I consider Wonderhussy a Vegas vlogger. Her exploration videos of the Nevada desert are a lot of fun.

I periodically watch "Jacob's Life in Vegas" for local commentary. He has been at it for a long time, discusses a variety of Vegas topics -- not all of which are of interest to me -- and mixes in the sights and sounds of Sin City now and again.

His recent video about the north end of the strip isn't particularly revealing, but he has a couple of interesting observations about its future, and I can't disagree with him.

As any Vegas regular knows, the north end of the strip isn't nearly as spectacular as it use to be. We've lost properties big and small, historic and not-so-historic. We had a decent investment made into a boutique hotel just off the north end of the strip, which crashed and burned in spectacular fashion. And we've had a major investment in revitalization fall flat on its face. Never mind the fact we lost a tired landmark of the north strip less than four years ago, demolished for a promise that has yet to be realized.

Jacob talks about the sad state of affairs that is the north end of the strip, and speculates about what the future holds. There's promise.

We have a decade-old unfinished building that is allegedly going to finally open in my lifetime, and the stalled project on the former site of the grand Stardust is finally taking shape. We know that the  Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which bought the Riviera property and leveled it, is suggesting the time has finally come to do something with the property. In the meantime the former Sahara, which bombed with its rebrand as a upper echelon property, is getting another major cash infusion by a known player in the casino industry, and the tired, alienated Stratosphere is rebranding itself with a shorter name and a cash infusion, as well.

I'm not sure how much those cash infusions will help the lonely former Sahara and Stratosphere, but the places are rather depressing if you drop by at the times I do, which is not Friday and Saturday nights or during the Super Bowl. People rent the rooms and stay at the property, but given their location and their lack of economic incentive to visit, you've got to really want to see a show or eat at a restaurant at either property in order to pay a visit.

Everybody agrees that new development on the north end will benefit all parties involved. Jacob notes that the addition of new rooms is good for the consumer, as it creates competition. That's true, but in the past decade or so we've lost the Riviera, Stardust and New Frontier, not to mention the one-time off-strip holding of Debbie Reynolds and the Westward Ho, a smaller, low-cost option on the strip that I stayed at during a solo trip in 2004, with no complaints, given I was a poor bastard. There are always new rooms opening on the strip, and we have seen plenty of high-end rooms at Aria and Cosmopolitan replace the lower-end rooms we lost to the north.

What will new development do for the north end of the strip? I'm highly skeptical it will do a lot any time soon.

If you build a new casino, people will visit it. People love shiny and new. New rooms and a new casino property are sure to draw plenty of visitors. But that alone won't sustain a property. Lucky Dragon proved that.

But the Resorts World project at the site of the former Stardust, is much bigger, surely it will be enough, in and of itself, to keep people coming back, yes? Maybe. Location isn't an insurmountable obstacle, but it doesn't help, and Resorts World is just far enough away that it won't benefit from the foot traffic that Bellagio gets from both north and south. It would take quite an array of attractions to replicate Bellagio traffic at Resorts World.

Jacob suggests that Resorts World, as well as the incomplete Drew, the tower north of the former Riviera, will have to offer deals to get people to spend their time and disposable income. He's right, but that's unlikely. You don't build hotels in today's dollars in order to offer discount rates. Yes, casinos will always offer comped rooms to their regular gamblers who have a habit of dropping cash on the property, but you don't open a hotel in 2020 and offer room pricing that competes with Comfort Inn. There will always be incentives available to fill the rooms thanks to the fiercely competitive nature of Vegas resorts, but you won't see Orleans pricing at new projects on the north end of the strip. And it's not as if the Bellagio and Wynn are turning away their high-buck clientele on a regular basis, otherwise we'd have seen more construction in the past several years.

The biggest boost to any property developing on the north end of the strip will be the expansion of the convention center. Originally that expansion was supposed to be right up to the sidewalk of the strip, but now there's rumblings a portion of the former Riviera property is available for purchase and development. On the surface, that seems like a brilliant strategy for redeveloping the property.

Once the convention center expands, all the properties on the north end will benefit, without question. Will that be enough to turn the former Sahara into the same bustling property as it was in the 1970s? Perhaps. Until that day, when all of the properties are operating and feeding off of each other, it's going to be more famine than feast by the time you head north of the Wynn.

Jacob also notes that the new properties on the north end won't be able to get away with the same gouging that other strip properties do. Namely: Charge for parking. I tend to agree. Asking people to pay for parking on the strip is like asking people to pay for parking at a suburban mall. It's ridiculous. It has hurt the strip overall, although how much depends upon whom you ask.

I think new properties can get away with charging for parking, if they can drive enough high-end customers to the property. But given that's unlikely, the new properties had better do everything they can to entice customers, and not charging for parking will be an important one. I could see a scenario where free parking and an expanded convention center would cause problems, but we'll ignore that for now.

It seems simple...probably too simple. The best way to fill a casino and keep it filled is to offer old-school Vegas value. The problem is that new construction cannot pay down its debt and sustain its operation by offering deep discounting. Anything that opens on the north end of the strip in the coming years is going to walk a fine line between the two, and can't afford a major misstep in either direction.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Life downtown was much different circa April 2016

I vaguely remember that night in April 2016, and it wasn't much different than tonight.

It's January 2019. I'm sitting in the same spot I was nearly three years ago. I can't promise, but in late April of 2016 there likely wasn't much snow on the ground outside my Minnesota home. And here I am in the dead of winter nearly three years later, and there are scant traces of snow. It has been a weird winter here in the cold north.

It was a weeknight in 2016 when I was sitting at the computer, later than I should have been, and reading breaking news from the Vital Vegas blog about the sale of downtown properties to the brothers Stevens. I wrote an instant response to that late evening blog post, much to the surprise of the blog's author. (I'll take praise anywhere I can get it.) And, as I'm wont to do, I provided a copy editing recommendation. (That's something only us writers understand.)

It has been nearly three years since news broke that we were losing a couple of tiny grind joints, a dying-on-the-vine casino and a dingy strip club. (That's what everyone tells me. I am proud to say I never saw the interior for myself.) Nearly three years later I'm typing on the same laptop computer about the future of downtown, and sitting in the same seat.

I can pretend to have Vegas insight, but I'm just speculating, along with everyone else. Yet there's one thing I'm confident of, the brothers Stevens are going to hit a home run if they follow through with the plans they've announced earlier this evening.

I'm still unclear why the name makes sense, but the former site of the Las Vegas Club, and other adjacent businesses, will be a new casino resort known as Circa. New rooms, new amenities and lots of uncheap booze will soon occupy the vacant lot at the west end of downtown Vegas. It's probably not for me, but I like it nonetheless.

The basic concept of the new project surprises no one.

You don't build a new property to cater to low rollers, and you don't build a new property downtown that replicates everything already offered in the business district. Therefore you end up with the plans unveiled earlier this evening, a new resort named Circa.

Nothing about this announcement surprises me. As I noted, you don't build a new resort and hope to attract low rollers with simple, cheap rooms and sparse amenities. Given downtown casinos don't have the luxury of grandiose features that their strip counterparts do, building anew allows the brothers Stevens to design a sports book that is unmatched downtown. (It will be the largest anywhere, allegedly.)  I've never sensed that sports books are the most lucrative element of the casino, but they generate a lot of traffic, and one of the keys to success is getting people in the door. Circa will accomplish that.

The elaborate sports book doesn't appeal to me, as I'm not one to spend hours in an area dedicated to wagering on sports. I make an occasional sports bet when I'm in Vegas, but it's a tiny part of my Vegas vacation.

Other major amenities planned for Circa include an elaborate pool and a spa. I suspect both of these will be smashing successes as well.

Neither element is a surprise. It has been known that the elaborate, multi-tiered pool area Circa promises has been on the Stevens radar all along. And why not? I've never understood the appeal of a "day club," but plenty of strip casinos market the hell out of the concept, and the people who favor such an atmosphere are willing to pay plenty for the privilege.

The strip casinos wouldn't bother with turning their pools into day clubs if they didn't generate meaningful cash. Although I've never experienced the preciousness of a day club, I know people drop a lot of cash for the privilege of enjoying a manufactured party in a pool. The concept wouldn't have appealed to me 20 years ago, and surprisingly doesn't appeal to me now. But I sense plenty of people who like the downtown vibe are interested in turning their afternoon in the sun into a raucous, lustful party. And the brothers Stevens are wisely banking on it. When people are willing to pay approximately $180 per case of beer at a fancy pool on the strip, I'd try to get a piece of that action, too.

There's no question the pool scene downtown is lackluster. This brings an element of the strip to downtown Vegas. I don't expect thousands to follow, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a healthy crowd dropping fat stacks of greenbacks on expensive handcrafted cocktails served by the pool. You can't put a price on that!

Like pools, spas are a foreign concept downtown. I get it, most of us who stay downtown aren't looking for the fanciest amenities, and there would be far more options buried within the bowels of the Plaza or the upstairs floors of  El Cortez if the demand was there. (Instead we get Happy Feet on level 2 of ElCo.) But you can't attract a high-end crowd to find its way to your high-end resort if there's nothing for them to dump all that discretionary cash that lines their pockets. A top-notch spa will garner plenty of fans, even if the Golden Nugget is already catering to that clientele.

My biggest disappointment is that I didn't hear anything about a fancy or exclusive showroom. I know we have a few showrooms in Vegas, and they're not exactly hotbeds of entertainment. Nobody seems to have the space to dedicate to a major production the way the strip properties to, and the downtown crowd doesn't seem to be particularly hungry for anything more than a free movie stage. So I can't say I'm not surprised that a major showroom is not part of the announcement. There are places for such shows, and Circa clearly isn't one of them.

So how successful will Circa be? It's no secret Vegas has been taking it on the chin in recent years. Increased resort fees, parking fees on the strip, high-buck bottled domestic beers at fancy casinos less favorable gambling conditions are not helping the city's image. And Circa is not the only project in development at the moment.

But for all the disappointment Vegas delivers with each passing year, nothing is replacing it. People may choose to gamble closer to home more often. And they may choose to visit other cities. But few places are cheap to visit, and for all the ways online commerce has changed the world we live in, virtual vacations are not a thing. People need to go somewhere to enjoy life, whatever the cost. Vegas still delivers incredible value. And for those who can afford more than value when they travel, (perhaps that will be me some day,) Vegas still holds a lot of appeal, despite its sins.

Circa won't be a license to print money, but plenty of people have plenty of cash to spend, as Vegas proves year after year. And there's enough of those folks willing to spend it downtown, I'm certain. Every hotel has high-end accommodations, but only the Golden Nugget markets that vibe from top to bottom. I don't think the addition of Circa is going to oversaturate that market. And the brothers Stevens are wisely positioned to pounce on that.

Nothing is foolproof, or impervious to the woes of our economy, but Circa is the downtown opportunity that nobody has jumped on, until now.

Monday, December 24, 2018

The night before Christmas

I'm sitting alone, 90 minutes before midnight on Christmas Eve, and I have no complaints. Without explanation: I'll be home soon and will spend Christmas with my girlfriend. We had dinner with her family earlier this evening. I'm sitting here alone out of necessity, and it allows me an opportunity to do something I enjoy, yet don't make enough time to do as often as I would like: Writing.

I have vague recollections of Christmas Eve from my youth. Vague, at best. From my earliest days in Indiana to my teenage years in Minnesota, with divorced parents living in two separate states. Like most people, my Christmas memories are faded and dust covered after more than four decades.

I don't remember a lot from my college years earlier. I remember working early one Christmas morning at the local hospital when I was in college. I was paid double and was done working by 2 p.m., that seemed like a great deal.

During the past 20 years I've had memorable and not-so-memorable holiday celebrations. I'm always amazed how, at least here in the Minneapolis area, the world around us nearly grinds to a halt for 18-24 hours. Yes, thousands of people are working in a variety of capacities, both essential and non-essential. And yes, there are stores and restaurants that remain open for one reason or another, both late into the evening on Christmas Eve and during the day on Christmas. But so many things are closed, and for nearly 24 hours my day-to-day life changes, even if there's still Facebook posting happening and televised sports on TV.

I'm thankful I've never had to seek out that random bar that remains open late into the evening on Christmas Eve, and I'm grateful that I've always had family members to share Christmas with. Yet I'm fascinated by the contrast that Vegas provides, and a small part of me wants to experience it for myself. If I was a wealthy, self-employed blogger, vlogger, journalist or podcaster, perhaps I'd experience Christmas in Vegas firsthand. What exactly do I want to see? Allow me to explain.

For starters, I'd want to be able to spend a day or two scouting locations around Vegas, getting a sense of what is and isn't open on Christmas Eve and Christmas. Then I'd get plenty of sleep leading up to Christmas Eve, as I'd start at 5 p.m. and make a marathon session of seeing and exploring Vegas for as long as I could physically tolerate.

I'd love to see who is or isn't hanging around a lot of places. I think I'd start at the Tropicana. It's a sad, sterile casino these days, even with all those hotel rooms and, from what I can tell, decent occupancy. How depressing is it? I'd likely run over to Hooters, as well. Is Steak 'n Shake open? Who chooses an overpriced burger and fries for their Christmas Eve dinner, assuming it is open. Is it a festive environment throughout the casino, or a ghost town?

From there I'd head to Excalibur, New York New York and MGM. Would it be any different than any other night on the strip?

I'd have to check out the Miracle Mile Shops, as well. Are they all closed? How many are filled with last-minute Christmas shoppers and tourists who don't celebrate Christmas?

I suppose I'd have to head over to Bellagio, too. That place is always bustling. What is it like on Christmas Eve?

At some point I'd head down to the Pinball Hall of Fame, as it is open until 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve. They wouldn't be open if there weren't people coming every year on the night before Christmas. So who is there, families looking to go out and do something together, or lonesome singles trying to forget the world is celebrating the birth of Jesus.

After that I'd probably sit out in the parking lot of a 24-hour rub-and-tug massage joint. I've gotta believe those places aren't closing for the holiday, and I'd be curious to see how many people show up in a 30-minute span as midnight approaches.

I'd have to run downtown by midnight to see how sedate the crowd is. I have no doubt it's business as usual, but how does the vibe compare to a typical night downtown? I'd probably bop into a few casinos, as well, to survey the crowd. Would I be surprised by how many people are gambling in the early hours of Christmas? Would Santa hats be the only way I could tell it's the holiday season?

By 2 a.m. it'd be time to take off. I think I'd head north briefly to Jerry's Nugget. I finally had their prime rib dinner earlier this month, and spent an hour gambling there. I'd be curious to see how quiet a locals casino in the middle of the night. How depressing would the gambling masses be early on Christmas morning?

So by the middle of the night It'd be time to head to Frankie's Tiki Room. This might be the first time of the night I indulge in a cocktail. Who celebrates Christmas at 3:30 a.m. with a mixed drink at Frankie's?

I'd have to enjoy in moderation, but from Frankie's I'd stop off at The Mint and the Peppermill. The Mint is a cute, modest 24-hour bar, and I'd be curious to see what kind of crowd it would attract. I've never been to the Peppermill for cocktails after the sun has set, so I'd have no idea what to expect.

From there, assuming I'm safe to drive, I'd drive around and check out a variety of off-strip joints to see what's happening, places that are always open, such as the "Pawn Stars" pawnshop, smaller restaurant/video poker joints and anything else I could identify as a 24-hour business that's not simply a grocery store or gas station. I suppose I'd like to see what the Ellis Island crowd is like after 5 a.m. on Christmas Day.

I'd also want to see how few, or how many, people are gambling at the Orleans. How quiet is the poker room?

I think I'd spend the rest of my day, for as long as I have the energy to do so, checking out the Christmas morning atmosphere mid-strip. What restaurants are bustling on Christmas morning? Are tourists out and about, sightseeing, like any other day of the year? Are people hustling tours, time share presentations and rap music CDs? Are the small, strip mall businesses near the north end of the strip open for business as usual on Christmas morning? Is there a different sentiment among those walking up and down the strip because it is Christmas morning?

Vegas is a 24-hour city, but things get awfully quiet on the strip, and in casinos, after 4 a.m. on a nondescript weeknight. I suspect Christmas Eve/Christmas morning are a bit quiet by Vegas standards.

I'd love to see it for myself. Unlikely I ever will, but damn, I'm curious.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Christmas spirit is everywhere in Vegas

I haven't found time to write about my early December visit to Vegas, but that will change soon.

For now, here's a collection of Christmas tree pictures from my recent trip. I hope I remember the location of each of these. Correct me if I'm wrong.

I'm not a shutterbug, but I have carried a digital camera with me in the past. Cellphone cameras are so good these days that I am content with relying upon it for capturing images from my trips. I have plenty to share in the weeks to come. I won't win any awards for my photography, but I can live with that. Photography is not an art form I have the time or patience to study. Plenty of people are better than I ever will be, and I appreciate those who share their work with the masses. How did we enjoy life without the internet?

Merry Christmas!

Outside the New York New York, I believe. (Dec. 3)

Big tall tree in the outdoor park area of Park MGM, leading up to T-Mobile Arena. (Dec. 3)

Modest trees inside The Shops at Crystals. (Dec. 3)

And then there's the Swarovski crystal tree at the Shops at Crystals. (Dec. 3)

This giant tree looms large over Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas. (Dec. 3)

This modest tree was near the poker room at The Orleans. (Dec. 4)

A lovely tree near the entrance to the cafe at Ellis Island. (Dec. 4)

A fancier tree display near the hotel check-in at The Orleans. (Dec. 4)

One of the trees along the retail mall area leading into Bellagio. (Dec. 5)

An off-center shot of another tree inside Bellagio. (Dec. 5)

The big tree inside Bellagio's conservatory. (Dec. 5)

A tree inside Caesars Palace. (Dec. 5)

A tree outside The Cromwell (Dec. 5)

A tree and menorah inside El Cortez (Dec. 7)

Small, but festive, this tree can be found inside The Mint. (Dec. 7)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

And things got interesting

So there I am, headed to the strip after 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night in early August, and I couldn't have been less excited.

I don't do the strip these days, so a night on the strip holds minimal appeal. I wasn't exhausted from the past few days of running back and forth to Phoenix, and I wanted to be a team player, but somehow I didn't have the Vegas adrenaline my buddies had.

Nonetheless we head toward Flamingo, where we're intending to meet up with Woody. I oppose it, simply because I hate the idea of paying to park at Flamingo. Beef, being the team player, offers to pay for parking. I begrudgingly consent.

What I don't realize while we're heading up toward Flamingo is that Woody has texted me. So we get to the strip, park at Cromwell, head over toward Flamingo and I grab my phone to text Woody that we're arriving and looking for him. That's when I see he sent me a text message not so long ago. He's following his new friend over to Caesars Palace.

The hell with that, I'm not chasing after him. And Beef and I are looking to have dinner. So we decide to look around and consider our options for a meal. I have no coupon deals to take advantage of, and I am not excited about paying $20 for a burger on the strip.

We consider our options along the Linq, and almost go to the Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips, but the smell of the oil when we walk into the place, which is doing a brisk business as it approaches 10 p.m., is too overwhelming to stomach. We bow out quickly.

We wander down the street and try our luck at Harrah's, and by dumb luck discover an acceptable dinner option, the Fulton Street Food Hall.

The new trend in casual casino dining, evidently, the street food hall is a glorified food court. It's not exactly fast food cheap, but it's better than fast food. And I opted for a big sandwich. I was able to upgrade from a worthless bag of chips to a cup of soup at no extra cost, and you get a bottled soda or water for your meal deal, instead of one of those crappy fountain drinks. It ain't cheap, but it was good, filling and not obscene. Beef upgraded his chips to a salad or something ridiculous like that, and that cost him an entire extra buck. I wouldn't dine like this daily in Vegas, but it was a satisfying meal that wasn't horrifically overpriced. And it was good.

The sandwich is larger than it looks, and quite filling. The soup that I chose instead of a bag of potato chips: clam chowder. Good meal, minimal complaints. I was on the strip, dining at the Fulton Street Food Hall, I was happy not to lose my shirt. Total cost: $18.40.
Woody makes contact with us as we're starting to eat. He's on his way back. That can't be a good sign.

He finds us at our table and shares with us a Vegas story I've never experienced in 35+ trips to Vegas.

After pounding the pavement for a few hours he went back to Flamingo, where we dropped him off late in the afternoon, and ordered an overpriced drink at the bar. He made conversation with a woman from Ohio. She was about his age, works in real estate and has daughters who are 14 and 20.

She seems to be fond of Woody's company, and shows it simple ways. He tells her all about himself and his trip, and she really wants to meet his buddies, but not enough to stick around when we're finally making our way to the strip. Woody followed her, and they end up at a bar inside Caesars. That's where the woman meets up with her boyfriend.

Yes, she's there with her boyfriend.

Woody is taken aback by this, naturally. She introduces him to her boyfriend. He's a farmer, if I recall correctly, and he was rather friendly. He had been gambling at Ceesars and paused to meet up with his girlfriend and meet the guy she has been chatting with for an hour or more. His friendliness made the whole thing all the more confusing for Woody.

The boyfriend returns to gambling and Woody wonders what the hell is going on. That's when the woman fesses up.

She and her boyfriend are swingers. He's more into it than she is, but she doesn't mind going along with it, and they were looking to swing while in Vegas. Her boyfriend seemed to have a woman lined up, and Woody was identified as her possible partner, evidently.

I'm not sure if the woman ever had the chance to formally ask him to join in their fun. While this scenario sounds like the type of Vegas fantasy every guy dreams about, this held no appeal to Woody. He didn't linger long, he wasn't interested in their swinging lifestyle. He made that clear, bid farewell and made his way back across the street to find us.

But man, he had one hell of a story to tell his friends, at least some of whom I know would have chosen the exact same outcome Woody did.

The night was still relatively young and the guys want to see a little scenery. By this point it's nearing midnight. For whatever reason, it is determined that Planet Hollywood is our destination. Less excited I could not be.

As we make our way toward the Ho, we notice the Beer Park outside of Paris. It's not where I thought it was. But thanks to Beef's interest and perusing of Groupon, I had purchased a $40 voucher for about $20, and I had forgotten that. Suddenly we're heading upstairs, in the heat of the night, for beer.

What a waste of time and money that place is.

It's not that crowded, so we're able to get seats looking out onto Las Vegas Boulevard. Thanks to the design of their outdoor seating, you can't easily see people walking along the sidewalk below. Yeah, you have a decent view of the Bellagio fountains, but it's kind of a lame outdoor seating area.

You'd think this was the worst Vegas vacation ever. Nope, just a buzzkill moment at Beer Park.

Nice view of Bellagio from Beer Park. Too late to catch a fountain show, however. 

You get a good look at the Eiffel Tower from Beer Park.

Not sure what kind of avant-garde photo I was aiming for with this shot from Beer Park. 
They have plenty of fancy beers on tap, and Beef, who claims to not have noticed the prices, manages to pick the most expensive beer on the list. The beers are about 24-ounce pours, and his beer was $21. Oh, Beef.

I pick a $16 beer, Woody picks an $11 beer. The total, with tax and the fraudulent CNF fee that I didn't realize was going to be tacked on, comes to about $54. Even with my $40 Groupon we owe another $14, which Beef picks up, along with the tip. So even with a Groupon discount, three large tap beers cost us about $40 including tip. What a deal!

They randomly decide they're going to close about 20 minutes after we sat down, and we're about ready to go. It's time to visit the Ho.

I'm a bit surprised by how lively the casino floor is as. There's a good crowd as it approaches 1 a.m., at least in the table games area. I don't know why, but I expected a bit dull of a crowd.

We look around a bit and Woody and Beef decide they're going to hit up a lounge, as they see two women sitting at the bar. I want nothing to do with this, so I leave them to their business and wander around for a couple of minutes. I eventually sit down at a cheap video poker machine where I can see into the lounge and proceed to play 25-cent hands of cards. I'm just killing time, and giving my Total Rewards card a little action for the first time in at least eight years.

Woody eventually sees me sitting out there and comes out to chat with me. There's talk about getting together with the women at the bar, perhaps at South Point. Why, I'm not sure, other than our timeshare unit is a lame place to socialize.

Minutes later Woody and Beef are introducing me to their new friends, and there's talk about going to South Point. I suggest we can all fit in our SUV, but the women are sure they want to drive there themselves.

Cellphone numbers have been exchanged and off we go. Woody has had a few drinks at this point, so he's Mr. Social. He is loving every minute of this. He's often a bit reserved and quiet of a guy, so it's nice to see him let loose.

We exit the Ho and are trying to head back to Cromwell, but Woody quickly starts chatting with a woman he has said hello to out on the sidewalk. It seems rather obvious that she's not there waiting to cross the intersection. But Woody is enjoying his chat, and she's quick to put her cellphone number in his, just in case he's interested in meeting up later. She has no idea there's no chance he will take her up on her offer, but he's loving it all the same.

I was surprised during my walk to the Ho, and exit from, that there were so many dudes trying to get me to take a free limo to a strip club. I know the free limo is a thing, and dudes are working to get asses in the seats, but I've been away from the strip far too long. I was surprised by the competition.

I foolishly engage a dude in chatter, just for the hell of it. There's no chance I'm going to a strip club during this trip, and definitely not at 1;30 a.m., but I acknowledge one of the dudes, suggesting I might be interested the following night, but I was just too tired to go tonight. He suggests I should go tonight, naturally, but I make it clear there's no chance. So he gives me a card, tells me to call him the following night, and thanks me. So now I'm a jerk for wasting his time when I had no intention of going to a strip club.

One thing I will never forget: As we're walking by a couple of strip club promoters, or whatever their job title is, one dope trying to drum up some business announces that he has a free limo to the strip club. Then follows that up by saying, "Prove that it still works, guys."

Does this dope have a ridiculous sense of humor, or does he think his idiotic line is going to convince some drunken buffoon to suddenly change his plans and hop in a limo? If this stupid line works, even .000000000001 percent of the time, Lord keep me from the moron who hears the dope and thinks, "Yeah, that's a great idea. I should prove it still works!"

As we approach the outside of Bally's there seem to be a few people milling about, and people coming and going. Woody is saying hello to women, single women and in tandem, many of whom look like they're coming from or going to a precious nightclub. But no, the women seem to be quite available to hook up for a price. Beef is enjoying the show, too. Me, I'm just hoping to get on the road and call it a night, as it's approximately 1:45 a.m.

Then a tall woman comes walking, alone, toward us. Beef is a couple inches shy of 6 feet, and this woman is probably taller than him without heels. He wants a picture with her, just because she's tall and he has some sort of taller woman fantasy. She happily says yes, and Beef snaps a selfie with "Starr." (I'm guessing the spelling of her name.)

I'm nearby and Beef is making chit chat. He asks where she's from and what she does. She says she lives in Vegas part-time. This intrigues Beef. She then modestly notes that she's an escort. Beef doesn't flinch, and moments later she's giving him her cellphone number. I see this, and have to interject, asking the most bizarre question she'll get all night. Would she be willing to talk about her work for my friend's Las Vegas podcast? She seems quite agreeable and that's all I need to know. I step back and let Beef continue chatting with his fantasy girl.

There are a handful of these interactions as we're milling about outside of Bally's. I sit off to the side, tweeting my agony via @vegasinsight, and try to enjoy the show. A super skinny woman comes walking toward us, by herself, and both Woody and Beef are cordial to her. She stops to talk. I try to discretely get a picture of her, and Beef calls me out, which pisses me off. I just needed a souvenir of this wacky night.

A local gives us directions to the Cromwell. 
Another duo approaches us at some point, and Woody is quick to chat with these women. I step back aside and mention I need to tweet. One of the women says to me, "Is tweeting more important than us?"

"Yes," I reply.

"Don't you want to party with us?" I'm asked.

"I'm gay," I reply.



I sound like a miserable jerk, don't I? But despite being tired, I'm enjoying the show, and know I have a little fodder of my own for years to come.

As we're milling about outside of Bally's, Beef receives a text from the Planet Hollywood duo. He takes a moment to update them on our progress toward our rental vehicle and ends up having a phone discussion with one of them. The brief discussion includes a question from the young lady on the phone. What's their budget for the night?

Beef simply says he's not sure and will have to talk to Woody and call her back. And that was the last communication between the parties, as far as I know.

Woody wasn't surprised by Beef's revelation, but I was. We discussed the possibility inside the Ho, and as we were walking toward Bally's. Woody had told me that one of their comments at the bar suggested perhaps they were looking for cash, but it wasn't clearly stated. When he told them he had talked to me and I was gambling, one of the women was very curious to know if I was winning money, he said.

Those two things didn't convince me that they were looking to get paid. And remember, I had met them. They were casually dressed, didn't give off the "working girl" aura, had been sitting by themselves at the bar, spent a decent amount of time chatting with my buddies and seemed willing to meet up down the road without any mention of getting paid. My theory was that they were tourists who wanted a "what happens in Vegas" story and liked the idea of my buddies paying for drinks, even if it meant going to South Point.

I was wrong. They're simply the worst prostitutes working the strip. And clearly I have no Vegas insight, despite 35+ trips to Sin City.

One last encounter outside of Bally's that I vaguely remember. As I'm assuming the wallflower position, I see Woody engage a woman in chat. She's obviously interested in something, as she reaches down and grabs him between the legs while they're chatting. Again: Something I've never experienced while navigating the strip.

We finally get inside Cromwell and are preparing to leave. Just when I think we're heading to the door, Woody announces he wants to stick around and will take a cab back later. He's just enjoying the show and doesn't want it to end, as this is likely his only late night on the strip of our trip.

Both Beef and I are opposed to this. I can't speak for Beef, but I'm a bit worried about Woody's safety. No, he's not going to get in a random vehicle or wander somewhere unsafe. No, he's not so tipsy that he can't stand up. He's fine on his own, but I'm afraid he's going to chat with some random woman and somehow wind up losing his wallet, or something stupid like that. Without one of us to watch his back, he might have another beer and let his guard down just enough that he'll wind up losing his wallet or phone somehow.

I finally concede. I'm tired. Good luck to him, I say, and Beef and I begin the journey south. Woody stayed out a couple more hours and finally headed back via cab to Grandview. His wallet was $40 lighter because he didn't have the Uber app, but at least he still had his wallet.