Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Freedom of the blog

I'll be wrapping up my recent Vegas vacation trip report in the near future. (The final installment is not that exciting.) But this can't wait. 

As somebody who has worked as a newspaper reporter for far too long, you would think I would have a firm grasp upon what freedom of speech/freedom of the press permits, and what it doesn't. 

But I don't. 

I don't spend a lot of my free time following freedom of speech/information cases related to the media. I'm not exercising my rights to public data often enough, in part because I could work 75 hours a week and not run out of things to do. I do a little of almost everything as a newspaper reporter in 2020, and waging battles for public data is just not something I can afford to do very often. And I'm smart enough not to get my newspaper into legal trouble over anything I report.

Therefore I'm not in a position to comment upon the outcome of the legal battle between the Sahara casino/hotel and Vital Vegas, the most popular blog in Sin City, as best I can tell. But I will anyway.

For the record: I have read the blog for years, I have blogged in response to topics its author, Scott Roeben, has written, I have met Scott more than once and I have been fortunate enough to have him as a guest on my non-Vegas podcast

Scott has garnered plenty of followers over the years, and developed an anti-fan club over the years, as well. Some joined the club in 2020, others flash membership cards dating back several years. 

I watch the barbs and insults, the comments and the criticism -- from both sides -- without getting in the middle of it. I don't have enough time to pursue my passions in this world, (thanks to that damn journalism career, which ain't much of a passion at this point in my life,) and therefore I don't have a lot of time to defend or criticize Scott's tweets, be they brilliant or cringeworthy. I'm not above criticizing, but sometimes you need to leave that to others. 

All that said, I have casually followed the legal battle between Scott and the Sahara. If you're reading this, you probably know that not so long ago, around the end of July, Scott shared a rumor that Sahara was looking to shut the place down due to the lack of foot traffic in the casino and hotel. That resulted in the Sahara seeking legal relief from the claim. 

I seem to recall that the rumor claimed Sahara might shut down in September. The original post is no longer available via the blog, and I'm not going to search for a bootleg copy, so I can't review the original claims Scott made. 

Those claims were attributed to a trusted source. Some will refute Scott has any of those, but he knows a lot of people who work in the industry, and his blog is well known as a source of inside information, from sources that he protects. Again, some will refute that. 

At the end of the day, Vital Vegas is a blog. It's not a comprehensive news source. The blog posts run the gamut from industry rumors and inside information to reviews of local restaurants and attractions to features on interesting shows and attractions that aren't always found in the tourist publications. (Look up his blog post on the Wheel of Misfortune if you need an example.) 

His blog's website suggests it's a source of news, tips, deals and WTF, although I don't recall any Vital Vegas deals being floated to his readership. (I'm always looking for a deal when I'm planning a trip to Vegas.)

The internet has spawned plenty of questions, and lawsuits, about what is legal and what's not when it comes to disseminating information. Anyone with a computer and internet access can create a blog, or post a rumor, via many platforms. 

I'm not surprised that the Sahara's claims against Scott were in vain. I'm no legal expert, but I didn't expect Sahara to prevail. Like Scott, I'm of the belief that their defamation claim was an intimidation tactic, a tactic that may well have worked against many bloggers who don't have the willingness, courage or financial wherewithal to stand up to such a claim. The Sahara lawsuit obviously failed, thanks in large part to Nevada's anti-SLAPP law that protects folks like Scott. 

The end result of this moment in legal history leaves me with two thoughts. 

One: How credible are Scott's sources? I have always assumed he has well placed sources that he can trust. His rumor mongering doesn't always pan out, but why should it? 

If you hear a rumor that your employer is thinking about reducing the vacation accrual schedule of its employees, but doesn't, does that make the rumor false? If you're not part of upper management meetings, how would you know if the honchos are or aren't considering it? 

Should your co-worker, who is sleeping with one of the bosses, even be sharing that information with you? No, of course not. And by sharing it, all s/he did was worry you about not earning that fourth week of vacation next year. 

Was there any truth to the Sahara rumor? Unlikely any of us will ever know. And Sahara's lawsuit, or continued business operations, doesn't indicate one way or another that there wasn't strong consideration to pulling the plug at the property. 

I have no reason to dismiss Scott's sources, or his trust in them. Yes, he floats rumors about property sales and other business dealings that don't pan out, but I have to believe Scott's source regarding Sahara was a legitimate source. Scott has pretty much pimped Sahara, and its SLS predecessor, whenever he could, and I don't recall him ripping the joint very often. Perhaps he mocked that goofy statue that once stood outside SLS, but other than that, I only seem to remember him promoting the restaurants he enjoyed, or reporting on the demise of restaurants and businesses that didn't survive during the failed SLS experiment. 

It seems unlikely that he'd open the door to the wrath of Sahara, or people on Twitter, by tweeting and blogging a rumor about Sahara's demise from a lousy source. Perhaps to you that's a play within Scott's range, but it seems unlikely to me. Given the fact all his eggs are in the Vital Vegas basket these days, it seems like being a source of bad information is the obvious play to avoid right now. 

Two: The fault I have with what happened is that he didn't follow one of the golden rules of journalism, even if he's just a blogger. (Remember, he is a source of news, according to his website. Although in fairness, he's a source of WTF, too.)

I remember being told this many times, and following the rule, during my collegiate days of journalism school: Always have two sources. 

At some point, I learned that you could get away with a one-source story, in some circumstances. I recently wrote about a new recreation area that was created within a national wildlife refuge. It's a simple feature story, and not meant to be heavy on details. I spoke to a representative of the wildlife refuge. Only one. And that was all I needed. I didn't need to ask the same questions to another government employee, although I'm sure you can argue that I should have. The reality is that I just don't have the time to do it, and in my judgment, it wasn't necessary for this story. 

You can argue that a blog site and Twitter account sharing news and rumors doesn't need a second source. And Jehovah knows Scott enjoys being the first to titillate the masses with a juicy tidbit, but in this case I think there should have been some sort of attempt at reaching out to Sahara for the standard denial. And I'm not the only one who thinks so

Legally Scott was free to share the rumor without the standard, corporate denial, as the lawsuit proved. But given that his blog has a substantial following and his information spreads like wildfire across Facebook and Twitter, the rumor reasonably had the potential to create a sense of panic among those who are connected to Sahara, either by employment or room reservations. Floating the rumor doesn't accomplish a whole hell of a lot, other than rile up the masses, so it would have seemed like something to treat as news, rather than WTF, in my uneducated opinion. 

Many people hate Vital Vegas, (at least 10 that I am aware of,) and will continue to do so. More power to them. I tend to ignore the things that don't interest me, and pause for those that do. Whatever the future holds for Scott's blog, podcast and Twitter handle of the same name, I hope that the end results are better for this recent ordeal. I do wish that for him. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Neutered Vegas (day 3)

It's Friday morning, Oct. 9, and I'm awake before 8 a.m., time to venture out into the parking lot. 

Twenty years ago I learned about the high tech game of hide-and-seek: Geocaching. I wrote about it for my newspaper chain, and spent a little time the next several years searching for hidden containers of trinkets and crap in public parks and other places. During that era of my life I found a few hidden caches at point along the strip. It's a fun, family-friendly activity that I stopped making time for years ago. 

And then I wound up babysitting my nieces during the past several months. Before long I was introducing them to geocaching. 

Knowing there was a geocache in the parking lot of the Orleans, I ventured out shortly after the sun had risen to find a small, hidden metal tin using GPS coordinates, take a few pictures and ponder all the things I'll never experience in Vegas as a resident of Minnesota. I spent a few minutes in the parking lot that morning watching cars cruising Tropicana Avenue in both directions, regretting I didn't snap a picture of the colorful woman who was walking down the sidewalk, probably not for exercise, and considering how my life might have been different had I made different choices at points in my life. More on that another day. 

My parking lot view of the hotel where I've spent the most nights during the past 10 years.

After my short parking lot excursion, I took coffee up to the room, we relaxed for a while, snacked on breakfast bars we brought with us and decided our lunch would be at In-N-Out. My trips often end with lunch at In-N-Out before heading to the airport, and usually at the Maryland Parkway location near the Pinball Hall of Fame. This trip would have a morning departure, so our In-N-Out visit came early, and we opted for the location down the street since we wouldn't be dining in the restaurant. We used the drive-thru, which took about 20 minutes, then dined at the outdoor table outside the gift shop next door. 

The long wait for a burger and fries.

Then it was back to Orleans and a visit to the pool. We spent a long afternoon at the pool, which again wasn't very busy, although it seemed like a lot of the pool visitors came later that afternoon. Once again there were announcements telling us to wear our mask, and for whatever reason, one of the poolboys made a pass around the pool deck during the late afternoon telling everyone not wearing a mask while lounging to wear their mask. But it's not as if the mask police were pounding the pavement all afternoon. 

We left the pool late in the afternoon and cleaned up before heading north. Our first destination: Broadacres Marketplace. 

Broadacres Marketplace is a huge outdoor flea market. I'm a sucker for flea markets, although I often have a tough time parting with my cash when I visit one. My buddy, who is a master at scooping up old video game cartridges in bulk and selling off his purchase game by game for a nice profit, had been to Broadacres once upon a time, and vouched for it as being a good flea market. 

It's a couple of miles north of downtown, and it's huge. Huge. HUGE. It's a couple of bucks to get in, and they have security doing metal detection when you enter, which didn't exactly comfort my girlfriend. 

The flea market runs Friday evenings and weekends. There are many food vendors scattered about the market grounds, and there are tables and a stage area where they feature live music during less pandemic times. There also appears to be a small variety of simple amusement park rides on the grounds to help entertain the kids, but those were all shut down on this Friday night. 

I wondered if some of the vendors have semi-permanent set ups at this flea market. Plenty didn't, without question. Despite opening at 4 p.m., we were there at 6 p.m. and some vendors were still setting up, including the one vendor I found that had an extensive collection of Halloween merchandise. Their entire space seemed dedicated to Halloween merch, but they weren't ready to begin selling when I walked by. I thought I'd come back later, but forgot about them before we left. 

The layout of booths is organized, but it's hard to keep track of where to go, or where you've been. It's not a basic rectangle of shopping aisles. And as I noted, it's huge. Huge. HUGE. 

As for the merchandise. I was both amazed and disappointed. 

There were booths that had odd collections of random secondhand crap, which is what I like to see at a flea market. And there were plenty of dealers selling new merchandise, as I expected. 

There were plenty of vendors selling household products you'd find at your local grocery store, such as laundry soap and toilet paper. I didn't price compare the bargains to be had. I don't recall seeing Tide laundry detergent, but there was plenty of less prestigious brands. I couldn't help but wonder, who comes to the flea market to buy their plastic sandwich bags or aluminum foil? Can it really be that much cheaper than the generic products at local stores around Vegas? 

Need $5 leggings? I don't, but I saw at least a dozen vendors with big displays of leggings, some noting their product was $5. If you're looking for cheap leggings, I guess you eye them up and assume they'll fit to your liking. The vendors don't have fitting rooms, that I could tell, and I'm guessing they aren't in the business of making exchanges, a la your local Target store.

I saw a few vendors with lingerie prominently on display, as well. I also multiple vendors with socks and tighty-whities, but those weren't displayed as prominently, for some reason. Plenty of new women's and children's shoes to be had, and a few men's sneakers, I believe. I only recall one vendor selling new cowboy boots. But dang, that booth had a ton of them, and I think they were all $50 a pair. I can't imagine they were high quality, and I'm guessing boots in your size are hit and miss.

If you need bright yellow or orange clothing for wearing at a construction site, several vendors at the flea market had you covered. 

Bulk candy and/or nuts, you could find that several times over. A lot of those products seemed to be things you'd more commonly find in a Mexican market. 

Several vendors had toys, although it didn't appear many of the toys were name brand products. There were some, I believe, but I sensed that a lot of the toys were generic versions of known commodities, like Disney princess dolls. I saw a smattering of dealers selling Funko Pops, but I didn't bother looking at what they had or what they were asking for their inventory. I don't collect them, and I have no idea which ones are "valuable." 

The oddest things I found were tires, mattresses and appliances. 

I didn't see many vendors selling tires, maybe only one, but I had to wonder who buys a set of tires from a random vendor at a flea market? 

Several vendors had mattresses. How does a person decide they're going to buy mattresses in bulk and resell them through a flea market? And how much can you make selling them? 

And appliances! There were a few vendors with washers and dryers. So weird!
hI was disappointed that I didn't find many vendors selling collectibles or outdated media. I don't collect comic books any more. I haven't for decades. But I always enjoy checking out books for sale, and buy some cheap old books for reading and passing along, often via a Little Free Library. 

Same with baseball cards or other sports collectibles. I get a kick out of looking at the stuff, but rarely see anything I'm even tempted to buy, unless I think I can easily turn around and sell it on eBay for a healthy product, and most vendors know what the going rate is for such merch. 

I found one vendor with old video games, but I don't play them, I don't collect them and I have no idea what any of them are worth, so I wouldn't know a bargain if I saw it. I was surprised not to see many DVDs, CDs or other media for sale. Many of us don't want that stuff any more, but I'll buy a cheap CD if it interests me, although I don't have the patience to search through an unorganized collection looking for the diamond in the rough.  

More than anything, I'd love to know the stories behind these vendors. Where do they source mattresses, leggings, bulk candy and generic toys? How much do they earn after a weekend at Broadacres? Why is the flea market business appealing to them? 

I know we missed an aisle or two of vendors, but I didn't want to spend two hours looking at merchandise I wasn't going to buy. I had given up hope of finding vendors with merchandise that interested me, so after about an hour it was time to head for the car. 

My picture at the start of our flea market adventure doesn't
give you a good idea of how expansive Broadacres Marketplace is.
And I didn't stop to take pics of all the odd merchandise I found at this flea market. 

I'd love to have a chance to go back some day, by myself, and scrutinize the merchandise for a couple of hours. My girlfriend politely tagged along, but she'd gladly stay at the hotel on a Saturday and allow me to scour the merch all morning. 

From Broadacres we headed downtown for dinner at Chicago Brewing Company inside Four Queens.

Friday night downtown during a pandemic. You wouldn't know it. Like many have reported, plenty of people are rolling in on the weekends. Fremont Street was crowded, and although they're not doing temperature checks outside the casinos, they still have gates funneling you into and out of areas. Not sure why that makes sense when social distancing is preached everywhere we go. 

Dinner at Chicago Brewing was good, but we had to tolerate three jackasses who were drunk, watching NBA basketball and yelling every time they got a little tingly in their pants. I've been emotionally invested in televised sports, but Chicago Brewing ain't a sports bar. The waiter working the room told the dudes, more than once, that they needed to dial it down, and the second time he did, one of the dudes got belligerent. Dudes should have been kicked out. They were done eating, and one of the dudes was practically passed out on the table for a while. And yet, when it appeared they were going to pay their tab and leave, the waiter ends up bringing three more beers. Made no sense to me. 

After dinner we went to the Plaza to play. I finally sat down to play Ultimate Texas Hold 'Em, and had no luck. My girlfriend had no luck on the slots, either. After an hour or so we headed back to the Orleans, where I played cards again, with no luck. It wasn't a late night for me, and it wasn't an exciting night of gambling in Vegas, but it was a great day in Vegas nonetheless.

Neutered Vegas (day 2)

There wasn't much of an itinerary for last week's Vegas vacation, as proven by our first full day in town. 

My first full day is often a Monday, and it's a real treat to spend the morning relaxing in the room and watching The Price is Right. Monday's are not my fun days at the office, to put it mildly. But this Thursday, Oct. 8, was much like my normal Monday. The morning was spent in bed, relaxing and watching Drew Carey in action. Upon the conclusion of the fabulous, 60-minute Price is Right, it was time to get dressed and grab a meal. 

Despite my objection to eating at Steak 'n Shake in Vegas, I buckled. I had a gift card for Steak 'n Shake a couple of years ago, and went to pay for our meal with it at the former Hooters hotel. I was told that the price-hiked casino location would not accept cash that had already been paid to the corporate headquarters, which I find to be bullshit. I guess that's a concession the Steak 'n Shake corporation had to make in order to get its name inside a lackluster casino in Vegas. I don't get the benefit of that, but I'm not a Wahlberg, so what do I know about running a burger joint? 

I had been to the South Point Steak 'n Shake a couple of years prior, and decided that if I was going to pay for a premium for a burger I enjoy, and can't get in Minnesota, I'd at least do it at a casino I like. So we took the rental car and headed south for lunch. 

We returned to the Orleans after lunch and headed to the pool. It wasn't very busy, and we didn't expect it to be. Despite the mandate that you wear a mask outdoors at pools, unless you're in the water or sipping a drink, it didn't appear that anyone was wearing a mask while relaxing in a lounge chair. A pool boy would occasionally provide a "friendly reminder" over the sound system that masks are required, but nobody seemed to care. I wore mine when I got up to get beers, or visit the restroom, but there was nobody near us while we lounged in our chairs, so masks really seemed unnecessary outdoors. But I'm not a public health expert, unlike most people using Facebook. 

Drinking cheap beer from an aluminum bottle while enjoying 90F weather in Vegas.
I'll take that any time I can get it. 

A long afternoon at the pool ended and it was time to clean up for dinner. Thursday night's dinner was prime rib at Ellis Island. Thanks to 2-for-1 coupons, I end up eating dinner at Ellis Island every year. The prime rib dinner is about $17, and you never know exactly what your cut is going to look like when you show up. This year we ended up with the thickest slab I've ever had at Ellis Island. 

My prime rib was not as rare as it looks.
Yes, there's a little fat on my cut, but not a lot, and it's a thick cut. 

Not the fanciest meal, but a good value if you like a basic prime rib meal without all the ambiance. 

I was able to watch my Chicago Bears prior to departing Orleans and at Ellis Island. I contemplated wagering $20 that afternoon on the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but didn't pull the trigger. The underdog Bears won outright, so it was a win-win for me, despite not wagering. I watched the final few minutes at the bar, running a few bucks through video blackjack while my girlfriend wandered off and played a slot machine she had never played before. 

It took her but a few spins after putting a $50 bill in the machine to turn a profit. 

She cashed out more than $150 ahead after 15 minutes of play.

After Ellis Island we headed back to Orleans, where I dropped off my girlfriend. I was headed to the Sahara. 

Earlier in the day I had received a Twitter message from Chris, who has been hosting his Faces and Aces Las Vegas podcast for years. I've been a fan of his podcast because it focuses on storytelling, not unlike my own, non-Vegas podcast. A few years ago he invited me to discuss Halloween in Vegas, as I had tweeted plenty about my Halloween adventures in Vegas over the years. We discussed Halloween in September, 2017, but that interview didn't turn up until more than a year later. The Mandalay Bay shooting occurred prior to Halloween 2017, and that shifted his podcasting plans for the months that followed. 

Chris was in town, as it turned out, and invited me to join him and a few others that Thursday night. My girlfriend wasn't interested in hanging around a couple of podcasting nerds, so she spent the remainder of the evening at Orleans while I headed to Sahara. In addition to Chris, I met Saul, a real Las Vegas junkie who I had corresponded with occasionally since he oversees the Las Vegas Junkies group on Facebook, and has hosted his own podcast under the same name. I also met two Vegas residents who Chris has known for a while. They are recent transplants in Vegas, and I'm pretty sure I remember both their names, but I'm not positive I can spell both of their names. 

After chatting at Sahara for a short while, where nobody was having luck gambling, Saul departed for the night and the rest of us headed to Westgate. I know all about the SuperBook at Westgate, but I had never set foot in that casino during my 40+ visits to Vegas. SuperBook is impressive, no doubt, but otherwise the rest of the casino is standard Vegas fare. I didn't walk around the property to get a feel for exactly how expansive it is, but driving around it gave me some idea. 

Chris and I chatted a bunch at Westgate, and by midnight it was time to head back to our respective casinos. I did a walk through the Orleans casino on my way up to the room, but didn't stop to play. 

I don't make a habit of tracking people down or meeting up with groups of random Junkies when I'm in Vegas, but the invite from Chris was a nice surprise, and I'm glad it worked out. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Neutered Vegas (night 1)

Vegas isn't actually neutered, but I wasn't sure what the best adjective should be. 

And no, I didn't intend to let this blog sit dormant for a year. 

Once upon a time, I dreamed of celebrating a milestone birthday in Las Vegas. 

I had never spent a birthday in Vegas, but my 50th birthday seemed like a good one to spend in Vegas, for a variety of reasons. 

Then a pandemic began, and within a few months I had written off spending my 50th birthday in Vegas. There was no doubt that it wouldn't be the same Vegas I have known and loved, and I was certain my life partner wanted nothing to do with a pandemic vacation. 

We had alternate birthday plans in place, and then, out of the blue, my girlfriend asked me if I was still interested in going to Vegas for my birthday. With three weeks to go before the big 5-0, she said she'd be willing to travel. 

The decision was not automatic. A neutered Vegas was not exactly my idea of a dream vacation. We discussed the pros and cons and took the plunge. We booked a four-night trip, departing on my birthday: Oct. 7. 

We booked our trip on budget airline Sun Country. I used to love Sun Country. It's a homegrown airline, and offers direct flights to Vegas. And those flights are more affordable than the steady diet of departures offered by Delta, the local market behemoth. I loved Sun Country because it was well run and offered a pleasant experience from start to finish. A few years ago the company determined it needed to target the penny pinchers and compete with other such airlines. That means cramming a few more rows of seats into the plane and cutting other corners to keep the cost down, and the planes full. 

I'm not a big spender, but I have managed to avoid Sun Country in recent years, mostly because I've flown free via Southwest, albeit indirect, to Vegas. 

So my first Sun Country experience aboard the stripped-down airline turned out to be about what I expected. Nothing fancy, but not too painful. 

During the pandemic, I've heard stories, many stories, about how empty planes are. How airlines are cutting back on flights, struggling to stay afloat and leaving seats open to provide some semblance of social distancing. 

Not Sun Country. My Wednesday afternoon flight was full. I'm not the only person willing to gamble with my health, evidently. 

Yes, we're required to wear masks on the plane, and no snacks or beverages were made available, allegedly in the interest of public health. A few people didn't think masks were mandatory at all times, but for the most part people complied with the rule. 

After a boring, slightly uncomfortable flight, I arrived in Sin City. Sure enough, the airport on a weekday afternoon feels as barren as has been described repeatedly during the past several months. 

After picking up my rental car at Avis, which I had never rented from before and would rather not rent from again, it was off to the Orleans to drop off the bags and change clothes. 

For all the times I've stayed at Orleans, I've never been compelled to dine at their TGI Friday's. But I suggested stopping in there for a drink and appetizer since our dinner reservation was a late one that night. 

From Friday's it was off to the Golden Steer, the old school steakhouse that looks like some sort of cheesy steakhouse chain from the outside. The quirky strip mall location doesn't sell the ambiance, either. I had never been to Golden Steer, but it gets rave reviews, and I figured what better reason to splurge on a steak dinner than a birthday in Vegas. 

VIP seating for me.

My porterhouse steak and baked potato did not disappoint. And the restaurant most certainly has that authentic feel of yesteryear. 

Steak and potato, happy birthday to me!

The staff is what you'd expect from a steakhouse: Prompt, meticulous and professional. 

I won't make Golden Steer a regular destination, I don't often spend that much on a meal, but I will be back, without a doubt. 

Fun fact: Pandemic dining means fewer asses in the seats. In some restaurants, tables are removed. Not sure if any tables were removed at the Steer, but they had a fun way of designating tables as off limits. Here's one example: 

Seated at the table next to us!

I had suggested finishing our night at another new destination, The Golden Tiki. It seemed like the perfect way to wrap up my 50th birthday. But we had a late evening reservation at the Steer, and I was so full from dinner, and my complimentary 50th birthday dessert, that I couldn't rationalize trying to suck down a fancy cocktail at the Tiki. And I was tired. It had been a long day, given I gained two hours by flying west. I was ready for bed. No gambling on my birthday. I hadn't planned on it, anyway. I was tired and ready to relax, happy to have celebrated by birthday with a steak dinner in Vegas. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

10 places I've visited while in Vegas that the average tourist hasn't

Perhaps I'll enhance this with photos and/or links some day, but for now, here's a simple list of 10 things I've seen/visited during my 22 years of traveling to Vegas that I suspect the average Vegas tourist has not. To be fair, most folks aren't that interested in many of these places.

In no particular order:

1. Rhyolite ghost town, which is more than two hours north of downtown.

2. The defunct Flipperspiel Wunderland pinball joint, back when it was in the same general vicinity as the Pinball Hall of Fame. (It evolved, moved and doesn't really exist these days, but it was an interesting alternative to the famous pinball haven of Vegas.)

3. Mt. Charleston Lodge, a high-altitude restaurant that plenty of people visit, but it's unlikely most Vegas tourists ever venture up the big hill.

4. Valley of Fire, a state park that I find more interesting than Red Rock Canyon, which is closer and therefore draws more Vegas tourists.

5. Freakling Bros. Trilogy of Terror and Las Vegas Haunts (Two local haunted attractions that have been around for years during the Halloween season.)

6. The Magical Forest, a fundraising holiday light display held during the Christmas season.

7. Wheel of Misfortune (Nobody does a better job of detailing this site better than the fine folks at Vital Vegas: https://vitalvegas.com/wheel-of-misfortune-las-vegas-discovery/)

8. Bonnie and Clyde's death car at Whiskey Pete's Casino in Primm. Plenty of California visitors who drive to Vegas have stopped at these Nevada border casinos, I'm sure. Those of us who fly to Vegas probably don't ever end up in Primm. 

9. Searchlight, Nevada: A few years ago we drove to Laughlin late in the afternoon simply because we needed an excuse to drive the rented BMW convertible more than five miles from our hotel. On the way back we stopped at one of the tiny casinos in Searchlight, which I had stopped at years prior. The casino had Rolling Rock on tap for 50 cents. I splurged and bought a bottle of Bud Light for $1.

10. Colorado River: Last summer I went kayaking below the Hoover Dam. There are plenty of companies offering river excursions, and plenty of people doing them, but those of us who have are likely in the small minority of Vegas tourists who do. I don't sense a lot of people are aware that river kayaking is a thing.

Bonus entries: Grand Canyon Skywalk and Cashman Field (in 2018, the final season the Las Vegas 51s minor league baseball team played its home games there)

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.