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monday, 14 may 2007: the decision that changed everything.

000_0459Ten years ago today, I started working for the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. At the time I took that job, I told myself it was going to be a major turning point in my career.

I said this because it fulfilled several goals for me:

  1. I wanted to work in a downtown office in a big building (Chamber’s offices were on the 19th floor of Chase Tower, Indiana’s tallest building)
  2. I wanted a job that connected me to the movers and shakers in Indy
  3. I wanted a job that expanded my role and responsibilities

With those three boxes checked, I immediately believed my career and life trajectory would take a drastic turn, thanks to the Chamber opening doors for me. I was only half right. Ten years ago today, my life’s trajectory took a drastic turn. But it never went to where I expected.

I had it all going for me. So why did I leave that job after one year and eight months? “Mid-life crisis,” is how I usually answer that question, jokingly, but it was more than that. So let’s take a look back in time, eh?

This is where the story begins.

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Chase Tower (now called Salesforce Tower). The tallest building in Indiana is smack-dab in the middle of Indianapolis. And I loved working there.

May 2007: Suite 1950
That was (and is) the Indy Chamber’s suite address at Chase Salesforce Tower in downtown Indianapolis. Truly an impressive structure, it is the tallest skyscraper in Indiana. Each day, I would be going to work in the heart of Indianapolis. While some folks hate the Urban Jungle, I love it. “Welcome, Kevin MacDonald” was written on a printed sign, greeting me as I pushed open the glass double doors on my first day. I walked down the hall, past a small cube farm—a cubicle “garden,” if you will—took a right at the Chamber president’s corner office and arrived at my office, about a third the way down the hall. There it was. My own office on the eastern side of 19th floor of the Tower. I felt important. I felt like a bigshot. I really did.

I’ll spare you the day-to-day details of my tenure there because, really, it’ll sound like the goings-on at any office in America.

The reality is my Chamber gig was great. But it was a volatile place. Not in the sense that people were screaming at each other and you’d have to duck a stapler being thrown at you. It was more subtle than that; more understated than that. Turnover there was high, that I recall. I did the math on it once and it was something like nearly 10 people had left over the course of a year or something.

It was a pressure-cooker job, but that didn’t bother me. I loved the Chamber and everything we were trying to accomplish while I worked there. In fact, I am still very loyal to that place. Sure, my frustration with certain elements of the job led me to bang my head against a wall to ease the pain, but isn’t that the same at any job? Truth is, I bought into the Chamber’s mission. It was an organization founded by Col. Eli Lilly to make Indianapolis a better place. That truly meant something to me.

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Riding the elevator to the 19th floor. Clearly, I was a serious man with a serious job.

My All-Time Favorite Chamber Experience
Working for the Chamber also availed be access to the major players in the business community as well as the political community. Even though I was a bit player at the Chamber, I was still privy to knowledge of big doins’ around town. My favorite story is of the city’s successful bid to land Super Bowl XLVI. It was May 2008 when Indy’s host committee presented before the NFL owners. Local businesswoman and past Chamber board chair Cathy Langham was on that committee.

Having met her and spoken with her at several Chamber events in the past, I asked her to call me with the results of the vote. I had a Post-It note with her cell phone number stuck to my computer monitor, in case I didn’t hear from her. She called me immediately following the vote to tell me we won the bid. This moment in my professional history is one of my all-time favorite moments because, for about 10 – 20 seconds, I knew something REALLY BIG before anyone else in Indianapolis knew.

About the time I hung up the phone, I could hear other phones ringing around the offices and cheers of “we got it!” Within minutes, it was breaking news on local television. But for about 10 seconds, thanks to my connection with Cathy, I knew before anyone else.

No, I can’t put that on a résumé, but it represents one of the more unique and interesting aspects of working for the Chamber.

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The road to this place…

About That “Mid-life Crisis”
Yeah, about that. Around the same time I was working at the Chamber, I had another goal, competing with my realized Chamber goals. For those who don’t know me, this particular life goal I’m referencing may seem like it’s out of nowhere. In some ways, it was, but it was what I wanted and in my head, I started to plot and plan for it right around New Year 2008.

What is this life goal? I wanted to be a dice dealer at a resort on the Las Vegas Strip. As a communications manager for the Indy Chamber, I couldn’t have been farther away from that goal. I hadn’t been a dealer since about May 2001. That’s a long hiatus for a job that requires some intense mathematical skill as well as the manual dexterity to not look like an idiot, fumbling cheques all over a dice table. But as the weeks and months went by, the desire to be a dealer again grew with every passing day.

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…would go through this place: Blue Chip floatin’ Casino! Michigan City, Indiana.

Was I burnt out on being a PR monkey? Maybe, but as my fire for communications seemed to be fading, I became more and more in love with the idea of being a Vegas dealer for a few, simple reasons: I could make decent money at a job that was stress-free (by comparison) and never required me to work extra hours from home. I could go to work, do my job, then go home and not think about it until my next shift. That seemed so desirable at the time. It really did.

Of course, that also meant bidding adieu to my favorite side hustle of all time: PA announcer for the IUPUI Jaguars athletics program. I had just wrapped up seven-ish seasons of working the mic for every men’s and women’s home basketball game (save one, when a flat tire sidelined me), a few softball games and most of the men’s and women’s soccer matches. At the time, I thought this was the end of my era. So did they. The good people of IUPUI even honored me at the final home game of the 2007 season with a plaque in recognition of my time there. It was humbling, but nice to be appreciated. Sure, at the time, we all thought that was the end of the road for me. But I pulled a Jordan (or a Magic, or a KISS) and came out of retirement when I got back to Indy in 2010, working another three years or so before officially retiring. No, they did not give me a plaque this time, but we parted on positive terms.

Welcome Back!
As for becoming a Vegas dice dealer, I knew I couldn’t simply pack my life into my Blazer and skip across country on a lark. For one, the casinos have gone corporate. They no longer will take an audition from someone in black-and-whites who wanders in, just because you asked. And two, I hadn’t dealt in seven years at that point. I had to “get my dealing hands back,” as I told people.

To do that, I turned to an old friend: Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Indiana. I worked there for about a year and a half in between my job at IU South Bend and IUPUI. Blue Chip welcomed me back with open arms, offering me full-time employment as a dice dealer on the graveyard shift. I took it. I still remember taking the phone call from John, the shift manager, when he offered me the job. “We want you to come back,” he said on the phone. It sounds corny, but that meant something to me, hearing that. It felt good to know I was appreciated (well, before I got on a live dice game again, at least).

Amidst several familiar faces and many more new ones, I made my return to the gaming floor over Fourth of July weekend 2008. My very first shift was all blackjack, highlighted by getting stuck on a table for the first 2-1/2 hours of my night, thanks to a shift manager who had forgotten about my table. “Welcome back!” he said, once alerted to the problem. That guy’s in prison now (for other reasons we don’t need to discuss).

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My Chamber office. One of the coolest offices I’ll ever have.

Meanwhile, Back at the Chamber
The good people at the Chamber allowed me to work part-time, remotely for a few months. Initially, the arrangement was…well, let’s be honest: it was a struggle for everyone. Working a graveyard shift meant I was trying to do Chamber work when I should’ve been sleeping. I ended up taking projects to the casino with me and writing news releases, newsletter articles and whatnot during my 20-minute breaks. It was hard for everyone involved; harder than they wanted to say (until it had to be said).

I made my way to Indianapolis about once a week or so to check in at the office. But by the time we reached October, it was clear this was no longer working. At the time, it was hard to admit that. But it was the simple truth. I couldn’t be in two places at once—mentally or physically—so I had to make a decision. By the time Halloween 2008 rolled around, I was no longer working at the Chamber.

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Employee #040776 at Wynn Resorts.

By November of the following year, I relocated to Las Vegas and was working as a dice dealer at the Wynn and Encore; the finest resorts on the Las Vegas Strip.

I walked away from one goal to pursue another goal. And got it within 18 months.

Mission accomplished and they all lived happily ever after, right? If only…

Oh Yeah…There’s More
What I didn’t tell you is, in the midst of all this mid-life crisis nonsense was, of course, a girrrrrl. I know, I know. Cliché, no?

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On a break in the EDR (employee dining room) during a shift at the Encore.

We met while I was working at the Chamber and started going out. It was going very well until you-know-who decided he had to run off and join the circus and that was more important. Yeah, tell me THAT goes over well with the ladies, am I right? “Sorry, honey. You’re great an all, but I wanna go to a place where I’ll be surrounded by degenerate gamblers, hookers, endless smoking and drinking and all manner of social addictions. Gottagobyeeeeee!” I’m a real charmer, I know.

Out of respect for her, I will not share the details of our conflicts beyond simply saying it didn’t work out. That’s all that needs to be said. I’ll simply say that decision of mine set off a three-year, off-and-on-and-off-and-on-and-off-and-living-together rollercoaster ride of a relationship that never settled into a good place for either of us.

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My first Las Vegas apartment, just as I was moving out. And yes, that’s about as furnished as it ever got.

Our relationship played heavily into my decision to move back to Indiana from Las Vegas in March 2010—not even five months after moving to Vegas. The other major reason was the economy. I was the low man on the totem pole at work and getting very few shifts. There was also a rising sense that I made the jump too soon. Sure, in my heart, I was ready to go to Vegas. But from a rational standpoint, I probably needed a little more time so I could establish myself. The struggle to stay afloat seemed too daunting and, given what the heart wanted at the time, it seemed best to pack up and move back to Indiana. Even though my employment prospects were pretty bleak in that moment, I knew I was coming home to the love and support of family, friends and The Girl.

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On the road back to Indiana, late-March 2009. Gassing up somewhere in America in the middle of the night. I was broke. My car was broke. It was nothing short of an adventure.

We all lived happily ever after, right? Well…fast forward 10 years later, Sunday, 14 May 2017 and here I am. Living in Las Vegas.

Again.

How did that happen? I’ll save the rest of the intervening years (2010 – present) for another day. It’s an interesting story by itself, but let’s stay focused on my 10-year anniversary of going to work for the Chamber. There’s good reason I want to do that.

The Fulcrum
Even though the jump from the Chamber to Blue Chip in 2008 feels like the turning point for everything that followed, it was really my decision to work for the Chamber in 2007 that served as the true fulcrum; the actual jumping-off point of every life decision I would make to follow. Without my move to the Chamber, none the dominoes that fell to put me where I am today—and where I’ve been over the past 10 years—would’ve have fallen the same way. Again, goes back to that “trajectory” thing. Moving to the Chamber set the course.

My stint with the Chamber has also cast a long shadow over the past 10 years of my life; mostly in a good way. Other times, not so much. Either way, I embrace it all. Sure, there were a few more bumps in the road than I would’ve preferred, but that’s life, man. There will always be bumps in the road. How you navigate over them and around is what matters.

There is no moral to this story; no fairytale ending or any of that crap. It’s a simple reflection on a moment in time in a series of moments in time that proved more pivotal than I ever anticipated. I thought I was just taking a new job that would advance my career. It turned out to be so much more than that.

As I sit here, less than a month away from embarking on a new professional journey, I can’t help but consider the parallels between then and now. Just as I did 10 years ago, I approach my unwritten future with excitement and happiness.

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Somehow, I ended up back in Vegas. Go figure.

How Did I Get Here?
There are mornings when I’m driving to work and I catch myself admiring the mountains in the distance that surround Las Vegas. I’ll turn off NPR and drive in silence, appreciating the Sheep Range mountains to the north, which loom over my morning commute, every Monday thru Friday.

I’ll look across the skyline to the east and trace the outline of iconic Las Vegas Strip resorts—the Stratosphere, standing tall like a needle in the desert; the Wynn, like a piece of shiny, curved glass, gleaming in the sun; the High Roller, slowly rotating like a giant bicycle wheel. As I approach downtown, I laugh at the fact that I’ve passed no less than five local casinos to get to work…and lament that I have to drive directly into a tangle of highways colloquially known by locals as “The Spaghetti Bowl.”

I allow myself to appreciate the scenery, the weather, the gigantic tourist attraction that pays my taxes (thank you, tourists!) and another day of drawing breath, and I ask myself, “how the hell did I get here?”

The answer: it all started on Monday, the 14th of May, 2007, when I went to work for the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce…

Sure, the last four or five years have been every bit the roller coaster as that 2007 – 12 stretch, but we’ll save that for another day. In the meantime, I will never stop appreciating everything—and the support of everyone—that led me to this moment.

Even the bumps along the way.

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Filed under Indiana, Indianapolis, IUPUI Jaguars, Las Vegas, Life, Personal

running the 5k at the las vegas rock n’ roll marathon: a shared experience to last a lifetime.

BibI am not a runner. I hate running. Even when I was in my best physical shape, running beyond three miles was out of the question. But I miss being in shape and want to turn back the clock a bit on my aging and so I’ve reintroduced myself to cardio workouts with the goal of being able to run three miles a day again.

As part of my goals, I registered to run a 5K this past weekend here in Las Vegas. It’s the opening event of the Rock n’ Roll Marathon. I knew I was not ready to run the entire course, so I resigned myself to walking most of it and running here and there. All told, I probably ran a half-mile, at most. My time sucked. My place in my age bracket sucked. But I finished. That’s all that really mattered to me.

A Day at the Races.
Pre Race BatonsAt the race, one of the local hotels gave out flashing glow sticks to participants. I didn’t get one. I needed to focus on finishing without looking pathetic, I reasoned. Carrying this flashing baton through the course would not help me focus. In hindsight, I should’ve grabbed one. These little props became something of a bonding object for runners on the course. People would bump glow sticks through switchbacks and make positive remarks to fellow runners. It was pretty cool to witness.

And then I nearly screwed it all up. One girl was slapping glow sticks with everyone running toward her. She held hers out in front of me, even though I didn’t have one. Cool, I thought. This kid was extending her camaraderie to me. What a great, cool gesture. So I reached out as we intersected…and slapped that glow stick out of her hand and kept running.

As I heard the stick hit the deck, I looked back and saw her chasing it down. “I didn’t mean for that to happen!” I said out loud.

A couple running about 10 yards behind me saw this play out and couldn’t contain their laughter. “Great,” I said to them. “Now I look like the asshole out here!”

They laughed. I ran, mostly out of embarrassment. It’s what I do when confronted with a situation where I know no other solutions. I run away.

A Modest Goal: Finish Before You Do

Fear the yellow compression socks!

Fear the yellow compression socks!

All through the course I was flanking two female walkers who were either 10 yards ahead of me or 10 yards behind me. It was like we were trading places every half-mile or so. It was right then that I set my only goal (beyond completing the course without being carried out of there on a stretcher). I told myself: I will finish before you do. I have no idea where they started, but I needed something to push me, so I used these two unwitting participants. And the chase was on.

I caught up and passed them about a mile or so into the course. They were probably only 10 yards or so behind me, but I wanted to be out front for awhile. I thought I was way ahead of them at the midway point when I was getting some water (spilling water, mostly, as I was getting jostled by runners). Prior to the water station, they were behind me. Next thing I know, they were well ahead of me by about 30 yards. I spent the next mile or so reeling them in.

About 100 yards from the finish line, I had them lined up. They were about 5 yards ahead of me and I knew I could take them in the last 25 yards. I began to ready myself for my move.

And then they started running.

“What the…???” I thought to myself. We’re 80 yards from the finish line and they’re pulling away from me. I could feel my one-and-only goal slipping away from me. I had no choice but to get on it and began running again. They kept running, too. “Faster. Faster. Faster,” is all I could say to myself. Sure, it wasn’t really that fast, but I knew I had to outpace them if I wanted to “beat” them.

“I want a girl with shoes that cut and eyes that burn like cigarettes…”
Cake’s Short Skirt Long Jacket was playing as I neared the finish line. There’s nothing particularly motivating or inspiring about it, but I love the beat and I love the lyrics. And I enjoy listening to it when I’m doing cardio work. On this night, it would be the victory song.

Right about the time Cake’s singer is telling us he wants a girl who gets up early and stays up late, I made the move. With about 40 yards to the finish line, I caught and passed my target. All race long, I flanked them to the right, but my path was blocked toward the crowded finish line, so I had to accelerate, slip through about two or three runners and overtake the girls on the left.

But they were still running! I had to continue legging it out to the finish line, which was my plan all along. I’d like to say raw adrenaline carried me to the end, but that would be a big, fat lie. I was dog tired, but I needed to accomplish that one, little goal. It wasn’t a sprint, but it was the fasted I’d run on the entire course that night.

And it was a close finish, too. If you look at my finish line photo (quite a sight, if I do say so myself), they are flanking me by about 10 yards.

The Finish Line. Quite the form on display right there, eh?

The Finish Line. Quite the form on display right there, eh?

Mission: accomplished.
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Me Post RaceThis was my second 5K. Even though I’m not much of an athlete and my knees and ankles need a full 24 hours to recover, there’s a reason why I’m enjoying these events: the positive energy. Sure, there are some seriously athletic people out there. In fact, I watched the starters of the race finish in less than 16 minutes before I even started. But everyone I encountered before, during and after the race is happy, excited and having a great time. And best of all: everyone is encouraging all the participants, cheering them on throughout the course. No one is making fun of someone who has less ability. No one is body shaming anyone. No one is mad at the slower runners.

If only every day were so positive.

A Shared Experience That Becomes a Lifelong Memory
For me, the real story happened before and after the 5K. I met and spoke with people from all over the country who flew into Vegas for this event. That’s half the fun of taking part in this event. People you don’t know and will likely never see again have a shared experience that will become part of a lifelong memory shared with friends via social media and with co-workers when they hang their medals and bibs on their cubicle walls.

I first met two young women who were, like me, en route to the monorail to get to the course. One was from Flagstaff, Arizona and the other was from Minnesota. “This must feel like summer weather to you,” I said to the Minnesotan. They both were running the 5K (“probably going to walk it, though,” the Arizonan said.) and participate in the 10K on Sunday morning.

“We did it last year,” said a senior woman in a group of three ahead of us in line at the monorail. “And then we got drunk and signed up for it again this year!”

I’m sure she was joking, but this exchange captures the general mood I encountered ahead of the race: everyone was loose, having fun and anxious to get there.

I lost all of them at the monorail, which was packed to capacity and then some. New riders at every stop had to squeeze and get intimate with their fellow riders. I imagine this is what it’s like during the morning commute in New York City. Even amidst an overcrowded, uncomfortable train ride, nobody complained.

Corral 12.

Hanging out in Corral 12...waiting for the start.

Hanging out in Corral 12…waiting for the start.

This was my starting point. Knowing 11 other groups would have to start before we could even get a whiff of the start line, I surveyed the crowd. It’s an interesting bunch that takes part in events like a night-time run in Las Vegas. There was a group of Canadians who, after the singing of the National Anthem, sang Oh, Canada. They received a genuine and loud ovation from the participants.

As expected, several people wearing costumes were on hand: A family dressed in Superman/Supergirl costumes, more Elvis impersonators than I could count, groups with matching shirts, I saw Batman more than once, and lots of women (and men) wearing tutus.

Prior to the race, I struck up a conversation with an older fellow to my left. “Are you running tomorrow?” he asked. After I said no, he told me this is his fifth half-marathon of the year, “and my last,” he said. “I’m 70 years old.”

He did not look 70! I don’t know what 70 looks like, but he was in pretty good shape, as you would have to be to compete in multiple 13-mile races in one year. He joked that he does it so he can get the medal—and free beer—after the race. He went on to tell me he’s had trouble getting motivated since his wife died five years ago. “I dedicate all my races to her,” he said.

Jeez. Talk about motivation. Here I am, huffing and puffing to finish a 5K and here’s a guy who runs half-marathons because he has trouble rolling out of bed every day since his wife died. I am a weak, weak man.

After the race, I struck up conversations with several participants over one, simple subject: college football. It was a did you hear about….who won the….what’s the score of that game? sort of chat. Within one group, I encountered Alabama fans and Iowa fans. The Alabama fan was born and raised in Michigan City, Indiana (where I used to work at the Blue Chip floatin’ Casino). It’s a small world, sometimes.

The point of all this is not that I did something semi-athletic. The point is I took part in a huge, social event and surrendered to it. I will never see any of these people ever again, but they all played a big part in a my lasting memory of the 5k at the Las Vegas Rock N’ Roll Marathon.

Sure, I got a medal—and a beer!—but that medal represents more than the 3.1 miles I huffed and puffed across to get it. For me, it’s about the positive energy I gathered in Saturday night and intend to use as a motivation to keep moving on a path toward next year: a half marathon.

You’ve been warned.

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friday five: five great las vegas movies.

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For decades, Las Vegas has been a favorite movie setting for producers, and why not? No matter the era, Vegas represents the same things: partying, losing inhibitions and a series of bad decisions. There are several Vegas-themed films I haven’t seen, including Viva Las Vegas (believe it or not), so this list represents only those movies I’ve personally watched. Feel free to make your case for other Vegas flicks in the comments.

Oh, sure, there are a few stinkers worth mentioning (Showgirls, anyone? That movie was HORRENDOUS!), but let’s just stick to the positive. After all, it’s Friday!

Vegas Vacation (1997)
Vegas VacationBelieve it or not, there was a time when Chevy Chase was funny. As Clark Griswold’s nemesis blackjack dealer, Wallace Shawn steals each of his scenes. When I was a dealer in Vegas and would have to check a young guy’s ID at my table, I always said the same thing when I’d hand him back his ID: “Good luck, Mr. Pappagiorgio.” It’s a little sad to watch this movie today and realize Randy Quaid is now crazier than Cousin Eddie, and not in a good way. But we’ll always have Vegas Vacation to remember he used to be funny.

Lost In America (1985)
lost-in-america-movie-posterPerhaps this is more of a personal, sentimental favorite and not really a “Vegas” movie. However, a pivotal scene in this Albert Brooks comedy takes place at the old Desert Inn and has been a reference point for my brother and I for years when getting our brains bashed in gambling. I played at the Desert Inn on my first-ever trip to Vegas in 1999. For my money, the Desert Inn has heart.

The Hangover (2009)
Hangoverposter09Has any movie embodied what people hope is how their Vegas vacations turn out? Well, perhaps without the tiger and the naked Mr. Chow jumping out of the trunk of a car, but The Hangover captures the essence of a weekend on The Strip everyone wants: complete, unadulterated debauchery. After all, bad decisions always make for good stories.

Ocean’s Eleven (1960) & Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
oceans-11-poser-2ocean039s-eleven-2001-poster-artwork-george-clooney-brad-pitt-matt-damonI’m including both films here because, even though the George Clooney-led remake is phenomenal, there’s no way I could exclude the original Rat Pack flick from this list. Let’s start with the first Ocean’s Eleven: it is a time capsule of a Vegas era that no longer exists. Everyone and everything was wild, cool and swingin’!

Certainly, the Rat Pack version looks dated, but that’s part of its charm. And there’s one other reason this movie makes the list: Dean Martin. There is no one alive today who oozes that much “cool cat” awesomeness. No one.

The 2001 reboot is easily one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s smart, funny, witty and purely entertaining from beginning to end. You feel like you’re in on the caper with the gang.

Casino (1995)
casino_1995The most incredible element to this movie: it’s a true story. Sure, the names were changed, but those characters were based on real-life people who are still legendary names in Las Vegas lore. My favorite aspect of Casino is the detail. They get it right on the gaming floor. For example, when Ace (Robert DeNiro) walks past a dice table and catches a dealer splashing a payout, he stops and corrects him: “Heel it off. Pay the bet proper!” From beginning to end, Casino is pure entertainment. It’s vintage Scorsese, vintage De Niro and vintage Joe Pesci.

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Filed under friday five, Las Vegas, movies

once upon a time, fremont street was the las vegas experience.

Fremont Street, Las Vegas today.

Fremont Street today. This is the Fremont Street you have probably never seen.

I took a drive down old Fremont Street yesterday, between work-related errands. It felt like any other tired, past-its-prime former “main drag” you’d encounter in any city in America, really. You know what I mean. Wherever you live right now—or wherever you grew up—you know which main road used to be the place for all the businesses, restaurants, shopping and traffic.

Fremont Street, Las Vegas, circa 1952.

Fremont Street, Las Vegas, circa 1952.

Back in the day, Fremont Street was the place to be in Las Vegas. It was swanky. It had style. Men wore suits and drank martinis at the craps table while the ladies wore cocktail dresses and played the slot machines.

Today? With the exception of The Fremont Street Experience and up-and-coming Fremont East District, the rest of the street is lined by dilapidated, boarded-up storefronts and rickety, old motels; some boarded up, others serving as housing for transients. The pavement is pocked with potholes and cracks and whatever businesses remain are barely getting by.

Explorer, politician and Civil War era military man John C. Frémont, the namesake of Fremont Street in Las Vegas.

Explorer, politician and Civil War era military man John C. Frémont, the namesake of Fremont Street in Las Vegas.

I would bet most locals aren’t even aware of Fremont Street’s history. In terms of Nevada gaming, travel and tourism, Fremont Street is Ground Zero. Sure, most people today understand The Fremont Street Experience—the canopied three blocks of casino resorts—is widely regarded as “old Las Vegas,” but I wonder if people truly know how historically significant Fremont Street is to Nevada. Simply put, this is where it all started.

The first hotel, first paved street, first telephone and first Nevada gaming license all happened on Fremont Street, which is named after explorer and the Republican Party’s first anti-slavery presidential candidate, John C. Frémont. It was during his second expedition in 1843 that Frémont, with frontiersman Kit Carson in tow, first explored the region that would become modern-day Las Vegas.

Fremont Street today.

Fremont Street today.

Before Arrowhead Highway would give way to “The Strip,” Fremont Street was the tourist destination. Before Bugsy Siegel opened a hotel out in the middle of nowhere called The Flamingo in 1946, Fremont Street was the tourist destination. Back then, what we now know as The Strip had only a handful of casinos along a dusty, desolate highway. Most of those that were standing at the time are now buried in the desert along with Bugsy’s associates. Unlike The Strip, Fremont Street’s history remains largely intact.

Fremont Street motel that has seen better days.

Fremont Street motel that has seen better days.

As I drove, I couldn’t help imagine what it must’ve looked like in the 1950s: American-made automobiles as big as boats, with tail fins coming off the back end, driven by men dressed like Don Draper cruising down the street, eager to reach his destination; the roadside motels and diners burgeoning with out-of-towner activity; swanky neon signs glowing in the distance as you draw nearer and nearer until you can finally make them out—El Cortez, The Golden Nugget, Las Vegas Club.

How times have changed, sadly, I thought. Once upon a time, this was the main artery into Las Vegas. Today? No significant traffic at all; least of all a caravan of tourists trekking through the Nevada desert, eager to test their luck at the dice tables and roulette wheels. Today, it was mostly people waiting at bus stops.

The Fremont East District. An effort to revitalize downtown and convert dilapidated properties into a destination for locals.

The Fremont East District. An effort to revitalize downtown and convert dilapidated properties into a destination for locals and tourists alike.

It’s a sad change of fortune for what was once the hottest destination in Nevada. Fremont Street’s place in local history is nearly forgotten, swallowed up by time, change and shifting demands in the marketplace. That’s understandable. It happens everywhere. But we shouldn’t forget the cultural significance that took place here over most of the 20th century.

(I used Wikipedia to source many of these details because they are well-annotated.)

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e-marketing 101: don’t give competitors free pub.

Even before I moved to Las Vegas, I was quite enamored with the travel and tourism out here. It’s big business and is plenty of fun to be a part of it. While most people know I’ve been a public relations professional since about 1997, what you may not know is I also have three years experience in the gaming industry. I was a dealer and supervisor in the MIdwest at a riverboat casino for about 2-1/2 years and capped it off by working about five months as a dice dealer at a major resort on The Strip. I’ve long since retired my dealing hands, but I still enjoy keeping in tune with the industry.

Being a PR/marketing/copywriting guy with a flair for the gaming industry, I like to pay attention to their marketing materials. It’s usually run-of-the-mill stuff. But on this occasion, a week ago, I received a mailer that stopped me dead in my tracks.

Before I continue, let me be clear of one thing: I am not being catty. I like to recognize good marketing as well as marketing that could be better. This is an example of marketing that could be better. I base my judgment on my 12 years of experience as well as being a consumer.

E-marketing Blunder
I recently received an email from the Venetian/Palazzo, advertising their pool.

11016075_10101529189858334_69310403391402350_nLooks pretty swanky, no? I’ve stayed at both the Venetian and Palazzo and have met people who work there. I have nothing but kind things to say about the people and love the properties. However, if I’m in charge of e-marketing for these properties, I never would’ve sent this email.

Can you guess why? Look again. What do you see in the middle of the image? The Wynn and Encore looming over the Palazzo’s pool. Wynn’s properties are neighboring competitors. Even though the logos were Photoshopped off the buildings, architecture is as much a part of the resort’s brand as its logo. In my mind, this is a huge no-no.

If I’m a marketing manager with the Venetian or Palazzo, that last thing I’m going to do is give potential customers any image that will make them think of a competitor. Here, Steve Wynn’s resorts are getting free exposure.

Am I being nitpicky? Perhaps. But if I’m a marketing manager, that’s my job. I’m going to use images that are 100 percent my property instead of handing over 30 percent of the visual real estate to a competitor. Whomever designed this mailer should’ve selected an image that shows Palazzo’s pool and nothing else.

For those who argue it’s no big deal, here’s why I say it is: would McDonald’s advertise its Big Mac with a Burger King restaurant visible in the background? No.

Here’s an image from an email I received from the Mirage in the same week.

10995817_10101529729506874_6352070003681187430_nSee what they did? They made the image all about the resort and no others. Even though Treasure Island and Caesars Palace sandwich the Mirage, you don’t see that in this image because they don’t want your attention diverted off their property for one second. Did they take artistic license? Of course, but that’s not a bad thing with advertising.

I’ll be curious to see the next round of e-marketing materials from Venetian/Palazzo. Hopefully they don’t give Steve Wynn more free advertising.

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day 413: the day i left clark county for the first time.

Today isn’t the best day for weather in Las Vegas. Cloudy, slightly rainy and hovering in the high 40s/low 50s, it’s not a pretty day for a Sunday drive…but I went anyway. Every so often, I like to drive through the Red Rock Canyon Preserve. Every day when I go to work, take a walk, or just look to the west, I see the Spring Mountains. They’re like friends of mine that I promise to visit, but never do. Well, today was the day to pay them a visit. After lunch, I headed out toward Red Rock Canyon. It’s only a few minutes away and the views from the car are breathtaking. The weather made the mountains and surroundings even more ominous, really.

After driving the 15-mile route, which starts in Summerlin and dumps you out on Blue Diamond (Highway 160) in the southwest corner of the valley, where a left turn brings you back into Las Vegas. What happens if you turn right? No idea. I’ve never done it before. I always turn left. So what did I do today?

I turned right.

I had no idea where, precisely, I was going. All I knew is it was something I’d not done before and I was about to see something I’d never seen before: Nye County. I’ve never been out of Clark County, so this was truly a first for me. So I charted a course to Nye County’s most famous city: Pahrump. I had a quarter-tank of gas, Pahrump is 42 miles away, so why not take a northwesterly drive into the Spring Mountain foothills as the temperature drops and rain is falling from the sky? What could POSSIBLY go wrong on this drive as the highway climbs in altitude on a day like today?

Mount_Potosi_from_east_1Truth be told, there was no danger at all. This drive is nothing like my friends from Colorado experience on a daily basis with the Rocky Mountains. There are no switchbacks. Falling rocks and the occasional burro? Perhaps, but I saw neither on this day. The closest you get to any mountainous driving is when passing Mt. Potosi, the southernmost peak of the Spring Mountains. It was a bit windy and the altitude made my ears pop, but nothing like what I experienced several years ago when driving up Pike’s Peak, obviously.

imagesMt. Potosi’s elevation is just a shade higher than 8,500 feet; rather unimposing and somewhat diminutive when compared to the Spring Mountain’s highest peak at Mount Charleston. But it holds a footnote in American pop culture history, as it is the site of a 1942 plane crash that claimed the life of Carole Lombard and 21 other passengers.

I enjoyed this up-close view of the Spring Mountains from a different perspective. I’m used to seeing the eastern face of the mountains bathed in sunlight every morning as I drive to work, so this was kind of fun, for me.

After Mt. Potosi, the drive is no longer interesting. I was reminded of portions of Arizona and New Mexico, where the highway stretches for miles across a desolate desert landscape. I was half expecting to see Walter White’s RV parked in the distance, cooking up a new batch of meth.

Welcome_to_Pahrump,_Nevada_(9365852795)It took about 40 minutes of driving from Red Rock to reach Pahrump. In a word: meh. I honestly have no idea what would compel a person to live in a place that feels so detached from the world. Seriously! Pahrump is an hour away from Las Vegas, but I got the sense that people here in Pahrump don’t want to be bothered much by out of towners. Case in point: Pahrump is Art Bell’s hometown. Need I go on?

I stuck around long enough to gas up the vehicle, then turned around and came home. The drive home was only made interesting by the worsening weather as I passed Mt. Potosi. Temperatures at the higher altitude dropped to the low 30s and the rain was starting to turn to sleet. I’m glad I got out of there when I did.

Today’s adventure was small and uneventful, but enjoyable nonetheless. I finally ventured out of Clark County and saw a part of Nevada I had not previously seen. Perhaps next time I’ll take a different route and check out Area 51…if they’ll let me get close enough, that is.

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it was one year ago today.

One year ago today, I loaded my cat Dino and a few belongings into my Chevy Equinox, kissed my mother goodbye, hopped in the car and began a three-day, 2,087-mile excursion to my new job, new home, new city, new everything.

How time flies, really.

Timestamp: Jan. 11, 2014, South Bend, Indiana. Pulling out of the driveway and hitting the road for Vegas.

Timestamp: Jan. 11, 2014, South Bend, Indiana. Pulling out of the driveway and hitting the road for Vegas.


A Year Ago
Gas was $3.45 per gallon on the day I drove out of South Bend and out of Indiana for the final time. While the price of gas has changed pretty dramatically, a lot of things have finally settled down and remained constant: same job, same home, same car, same Dino. Given the peaks and valleys of the previous 18 months, steady and predictable is nice.

The saddest difference from a year ago is my grandmother died not too long after I moved to Vegas. She was 89 years old and still sharp as a tack. I saw her last Christmas for the last time and spoke to her about a day before she died. That’s when she told me to stay home, if you can wrap your head around that for a moment.

Another big change that affects me tangentially is my mother moved back to our hometown of Bay City, Michigan. After about 27 years of living in South Bend, she decided it was time to move back, and it’s been one of the best things she’s ever done. She and my dad moved to South Bend in 1987.

Adventures in Driving
I also drive considerably fewer miles than I did when I lived in Indiana. How considerable? I had my car for two years and two months when I left for Vegas last January. My odometer read 40,474. If you start the count from the day I arrived in Vegas, I’ve driven 10,486 miles. That’s an average of about 874 miles per month. In the 26 months I lived in Indiana I averaged 1,557 miles per month…wow!

That makes sense, though. I was on the road between South Bend and Indianapolis a lot. I also drove to Michigan a few times (including up to the UP). But even without that, it seems I do less local driving in Vegas. Truth be told, it’s not a very big city. Sure, lots of people live here, but it’s spread out into lots of ‘burbs. And I don’t need to be in too many other places other than my ‘hood.

Moving in. Dino was no help at all.

Moving in. Dino was no help at all.

My Report Card
So how would I rate my first, full year of living in Las Vegas? A moderate success: C+. And I can explain how I arrived at that grade. When you relocate, you spend the first few weeks and months just trying not to get lost. You’re trying to settle into a new routine for work and home. And somewhere in the middle of all that, you want to socialize and have a bit of fun. Given that I was also coming off a year and a half of one of my lowest points ever, I was also just looking to level off and stabilize.

Seeing Queen at the Hard Rock this year was, easily, the highlight of 2014.

Seeing Queen at the Hard Rock this year was, easily, the highlight of 2014.

I think I got the work/home thing pretty well dialed in. I had that dialed in pretty early on, actually. Between family and friends visiting, I’ve had ample opportunities to hang out and goof off on The Strip, which is nice. I’ve gotten out to a couple fun shows (Bill Maher, Queen + Adam Lambert). So, yeah. I’ve had fun. But I didn’t get “local” enough for my liking. I leveled off…and coasted. That’s why I wouldn’t grade myself higher than a C+.

In My Defense
After the tumult of half of 2012 and virtually all of 2013, I needed to string together a few weeks and months of calm and stable. You have no idea how gratifying it is to be able to come home on a Friday night, relax with something on HBO knowing you’ve got money in the bank, your bills are paid and you can sleep in, knowing you’ve got somewhere to be on Monday morning. But that day is done and it’s time to step it up again.

What’s Next?
It’s been a quiet, modest year (mostly by design), but it’s time to shake things up. I enjoy the pace of life I’ve carved out for myself. But that needs to change. Complacency is never a good place, if you ask me, so I intend to spend 2k15 matriculating the ball downfield. I was happy to level off and break even, if you will, for 2k14, but this year will be a year of truly changing things; a year when I check off some big-ticket items off the Bucket List (a term I normally hate, but I’ll go with it, for now).

What are those items? I’m afraid I won’t tell you that right now. You’ll know when you know.

Ready or not, 2k15, here I come.

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