Category Archives: nightlife

Three Days Without Rules

One of the most reckless and euphoric weekends of my life had a bizarre beginning. As my flight was landing at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, I removed my headphones. First, I hear the woman next to me, talking to her teenage daughter about how tired she was, having been traveling for 15 hours. “I’m going straight to bed as soon as we get home”. Less than half a second later, I hear the two guys sitting in the row behind them talking about something going on in their Vegas-bound lives. “She was seriously a hoe”.


I wondered what it’s like to live in a place like this. I visit Las Vegas regularly, but never think of it as a place where people live. Most visitors just think of it as some sort of crazy amusement park-like place of gambling and entertainment. Nobody thinks of people working, raising a family, and doing normal life things here, but it does happen.

Do people who live in Las Vegas just become accustomed to being surrounded by talk of partying, gambling, and debauchery, the same way New Yorkers don’t think much of crowds and pollution, and people in West Texas don’t think much of the smell of feedlots? How would one go about raising a daughter in this town?

The majority of trips to Las Vegas don’t go anywhere beyond the Strip. However, Vegas does have more to offer. Like most other cities in Western North America, Vegas is surrounded by mountains, and recreation opportunities.


Only half an hour West of town is Red Rock Canyon National Preserve, the most high profile place for hikes and scenic drives in the vicinity of Las Vegas.


Before getting mired in the standard Las Vegas activities, I explored the place a little bit, driving to a few scenic overlooks, and going for a moderate length hike.


It was a good opportunity to get a little sun and exercise.


And even draw on the rocks to gave myself some good vibes for my upcoming gambling.


After last year’s trip to Vegas, I concluded that “The common thread to everything that goes on here is that people are enjoying themselves, embracing their wild sides, in their own way, and letting go of at least some component of the restriction they live under during their normal lives…” This year, possibly due to my current frame of mind, I felt even more free spirited, even more liberated. It felt like ALL THE RULES WERE LITERALLY GONE!

 


Nothing felt off limits.

It was as if everything external that had been stopping me from ever doing anything was just gone. Expectations from others. Fear of bad outcomes. Even the law of averages.


I rolled for 30 minutes at the craps table, winning myself some money, but winning some others at the table some obscene amounts of money. Some even made bets on my behalf out of appreciation!

While there were a couple of places where I lost a little bit of money, the winnings just kept on coming. All three nights I won big!

 


The drinks just kept coming, free when gambling.


Unlike in normal life, hangovers never set in, and I never felt like sleeping.

Normally, if I sleep only six hours (as opposed to the usual 7.5) on a given night, I am drowsy. On this 72-hour binge of over-stimulation, 90 minutes felt sufficient.

The overall stats for the trip….

  • Three days in town
  • Approximately 75 alcoholic beverages consumed
  • Total sleep 7.5 hours
  • Approximately 26 hours of total gambling
  • Winnings of approximately $850
    • Nearly all of which was on $10 tables
  • Everything else: Well, as the saying goes “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas”


Except my money! That comes back with me!

To make that happen takes self-restraint. When people win money in Las Vegas, Las Vegas tries to take it back! First, by getting people to gamble more through a combination of free drinks and making it difficult to find the exit to any casino. It takes some discipline to “Quit while you’re ahead”.


If one can leave the casinos without gambling away those winnings, Las Vegas will try to get it back on the Strip. I found out first had that Las Vegas has a way of spotting a winner. Maybe they can see it in people’s eyes, smiles, behavior and expressions of confidence. But they seem to know who is winning, and come after them.


Promoters trying to get people to go to clubs, sex workers, people trying to sell stuff both legal and illegal, even random strangers. They came for me, and, it felt like the more I won, the more aggressively they came. After the second night of wining, a promoter walked with my friend and I six blocks up the Strip trying to convince us to go to a strip club. After the third night of winning, I had to navigate through what felt like a mine field of sex workers who, when I told them I was good, responded “No you’re not, you’re alone.”


I did not need a set of rules, government involvement, societal pressure, or anyone watching over me to restrain from most of what Las Vegas was trying to get me to do. Nor did I have to take advantage of every single opportunity presented to me to feel as free spirited as I had felt in my entire life. I was liberated from external rules and expectations, not my own judgement. I confidently decided for myself what activities I wanted to take part in, without letting fear stop me, but also without letting fear of missing out (commonly referred to as FOMO) get met to do things I did not want to do or spend money I did not want to spend.

Going back to regular life after a weekend like this is difficult. Regular life, the average day, well there is no way it will ever compare.

Of course, this all was not in the least bit sustainable. My body could not handle even one more day of this. Anyone remotely close to my age seemed to be in suspended disbelief that I could handle what I did.

It is such as crazy mystery of life. Why are unsustainable habits frequently more desirable than sustainable ones? Why does it seem like the things we are told are good for us make us feel bad, and that the things that we are told are bad for us make us feel good? And why does the result of such things rarely seem to fit the narrative we are given?

I don’t profess to know everything about life, but this year I finally processed through a lot of what I had been observing over the past decade. We are taught so many things, through school, work, media, etc. about the way life is supposed to be lived. Assumptions are ingrained into our heads to the point where we do not even realize we are making them in our life decisions. These assumptions can, at times, be misguided, and even hold us back from making the most of our lives.

With no assumptions. With no “you should do this”, or fear of what happens when you “don’t do that”, life made more sense. It is just about getting over the fear of the unknown that lies beyond the divide. I do not know what is going to happen when I return to normal life. And, while I have no plans to run on two hours of sleep, or start drinking at noon, I do hope I can bring the confidence and spirit of self-determination back to “regular life” going forward. Many people look to rules to protect them. Like my weekend in Vegas, I would rather trust my own judgement to bring  me to the right outcomes.

Pure Magic

Las Vegas, Nevada!  Magical!

IMG_7480.jpgWhile I am not sure everyone agrees, it is one of those rare situations where, at least from my perspective, one word can be used to sum up a place.

The word magic itself can be a tricky one to pin down.  Most people think of magicians pulling rabbits out of hats.  Some people think about some kind of supernatural force, something that cannot be explained by science and logic, which, for many, has a negative connotation.

To me, magic is the power to transform.  No illusions are necessary, nor are any supernatural powers (although, as an open minded individual I will not rule them out).  I find it “magical” anytime a specific situation has the power to transform something into something else, regardless of whether anything that can be considered supernatural is involved.  Magic can occur in the standard magician situation, like when one sits there wondering how the four of hearts suddenly became a mountain goat.  But, it can also happen when someone meets a new person, when a rainbow suddenly appears, or when a new experience leads to people viewing the world a different way.  All of these “transformations” occur well within the realm of what can physically be explained by either science or logic.

As soon as I set foot in Las Vegas, I see a world transformed into something completely different.

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Paris is a mile from New York, and just across the street from Caesar’s Palace.  Less than a mile up the road is Treasure Island.

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Suddenly midnight is “early”, and 3 A.M. is not too particularly “late”.

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Money transforms from paper into little round discs.  Suddenly, $5 is a “nickel”, and $25 is a “quarter”.

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People are suddenly willing to take on all sorts of risks they’d otherwise be unable to fathom.

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And, those weighing over 350 pounds, most likely typically shamed in their day-to-day life, can eat for free at a place called the Heart Attack Grill!

When I think of the people I talk to, or have talked to on a regular basis, I would say that Las Vegas appeals to roughly 2/3 of the population.  I do frequently encounter people who tell me they have no interest in visiting Vegas.  It is, after all, somewhat of a hyperbole for a certain aspect of adult life, particularly young adult life, that is wild and unrestricted, but also potentially destructive in multiple ways.

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Vegas got its start as a gambling destination.  Gambling is still probably the first thing anyone would think of when the think of Las Vegas.

Gambling in Las Vegas can be a number of different types of experiences.  There are plenty of different kinds of games and plenty of different kinds of experiences, from the fancier resorts, like Aria and the Wynn, to more affordable places like Casino Royale and Circus Circus.

Those that prefer lower stakes can opt for a change of pace at the Freemont Street Experience.  This was the original Las Vegas, and some of these casinos, right in the heart of what is considered Downtown Las Vegas, a few miles north of the strip, are among the first ones developed here in the middle part of the 20th Century.

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The pedestrian mall in some ways is reminiscent of similar streets in other major cities.  The street almost becomes a non-stop party, with attractions, tons of places to drink (and in this case gamble), and areas where stages are commonly set up for bands to play.

My primary gambling mode is, and probably always will be, table games, usually black jack or craps.  On this particular trip, I found my sweet spot at places that fit somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, such as the Flamingo, Cromwell, Ballys and Treasure Island.

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But Vegas is more than gambling.  In fact, there are plenty of visitors that come and do very little gambling, preferring to spend their time at the clubs, at pools, shopping, or taking part in another activity altogether.

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The common thread to everything that goes on here is that people are enjoying themselves, embracing their wild sides, in their own way, and letting go of at least some component of the restriction they live under during their normal lives, even if it’s as simple as piling up large amounts of foods that do not typically “go together” at a buffet.

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As a single entity, Vegas makes me think of what it would be like to live in a movie, or on some natural version of a drug high.  Everything feels more significant.  The dull parts are cut out.  There is no doing laundry, ironing shirts or anything like that.  Heck, even sleeping is reduced.  Decorations and shows appear everywhere in a manner that stimulates all five senses until they are overloaded.

I’d say the “real world” (however you want to define it) is not magical, but whose fault is that?  Could I be missing the “magic” that does occur on a day-to-day basis?  As people become entrepreneurs, find new relationships, have the courage to leave bad relationships, discover who they truly are, and go on life changing trips.  Could I be failing to take the opportunities to create “magic” when they present themselves?  When someone needs help, when someone has an idea, or when a truly splendid rainbow appears in the sky, just begging me to stop what I am doing, forget whatever my mind is currently fixated on, and just allow myself to take in the experience.

The truth is, with a good enough imagination, enough confidence, and a willingness to act, any place can be “magical”.  But, whenever I lose sight of that, I know I can always go back to Vegas to reconnect with it.

Life in a Northern Town

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It’s 8 AM on a Thursday morning in Reykjavik, Iceland’s Capitol and largest City.  The sun has yet to come up, as this far north (64 degrees latitude) days are still quite short in the middle part of February.  A quiet dawn persists over the town for nearly two hours, from 8 to about 10.  A couple of local teenagers are hanging outside the grocery store.  A group of tourists can be seen hanging outside one of the few restaurants that are open.  Otherwise, the streets are quite empty, and the shops are mostly closed.

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It’s odd because, in many most major cities, 8:00 is the peak of what is often referred to as “rush hour”.  It is a time of people hurrying to and from train stations, and crowding highways trying to get to work.  Even in the more touristy sections of cities, which this most certainly is, a lot of motion can still be found at this hour.  At places like Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, and New York’s Time Square, which are utterly packed with tourists nearly every day, there are still plenty of people to be found at 8:00 on a weekday morning, mostly people headed into work.  Here, that culture just does not seem to exist.  Are all the office jobs elsewhere?  Do people have office jobs?  Do they work different hours?  Or is the economy so heavy on tourism and fishing that there is just no point in being awake at an hour when all the tourists are likely still asleep and the sun is not out?

By noon, things start to pick up.  On some days, the sun comes out and hits the harbor.  At this latitude, when it hits the harbor, it hits it in a way that seems to highlight every single feature, from the boats in the harbor to the snowy mountains on the other side.  From the perspective of someone that has always lived in the mid-latitudes, is feels neither like mid-day nor twilight.  It is a different feeling altogether, and those who take a pause from their tourist itinerary and truly soak up the moment are reminded as to why it is worthwhile to visit different places in the first place; to see something, experience something, do something that cannot be done at home.

The day progresses.  Tourists fill streets whose names are too intimidating to even try to pronounce, make their way into the bars, the restaurants, and the dozens of souvenir stores that feature a gigantic stuffed puffin in the window.

The weather inevitably changes- but, well it doesn’t.

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There is this saying, “if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes, it will change.”  Anyone that travels on a regular basis to places outside the tropics has most likely heard the phrase too many times to count.  It is used here.  At souvenir shops, mugs and shirts about Iceland sport the phrase.  And, it is true to some extent.  At any moment, it can turn from sunny to cloudy, or suddenly get windy.  But, the temperature does not vary too much.  On a four day trip to Iceland, the temperature, including daytime and nighttime, seemed to only vary between a few degrees below freezing and a few degrees above freezing.

Regardless of these changes, winter in Iceland is consistently cold and damp.  For this reason, one of the most popular items made in all of Iceland are wool sweaters.  While any visitor to Reykjavik can find these sweaters for sale all over town, the best deals on them are found at the Kolaportid Flea Market.  Even at the Flea Market, though, they can be quite expensive, the equivalent of roughly $100.  Money talks, and it is easy to figure out what a certain culture values by seeing what they are willing to spend money on.  Coloradans are willing to spend thousands of dollars annually on ski equipment.  Icelanders are willing to spend money on a warm wool sweater.

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Reykjavik’s population is only just over 200,000 people.  In fact, the population of all of Iceland is 330,000- significantly less than every borough of New York City, even Staten Island.  Yet, it is a place that knows how to party!  The nightlife is surprisingly good- probably better than many towns 2-3 times its size!

Making up for the lack of action at 9 in the morning, festivals, shows, and clubs give locals and tourists alike plenty to do in the nighttime hours.  Iceland has been promoting tourism quite hard since the economic collapse of 2008, which hit Iceland particularly hard.  Iceland Air has been particularly active in promoting tourism, by adding direct flights to more places in both Europe and North America, possibly with the goal of becoming a preferred airport for making connections while traveling between Europe and North America.

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Looking at this map, it is hard not to imagine an executive with Iceland Air looking at at map, possibly even Risk the board game, and thinking of this grand plan to become a connecting point between the continents.

Well, it’s working.  Recently, more people talk about Reykjavik being their favorite place to make flight connections, and more and more people seem to have visited Iceland.  At this point, in Reykjavik, it is probably impossible for locals and tourists not to interact with one another in some way, especially at clubs and shows.

After hours of partying, all of a sudden it is 4 AM.  Many clubs still have lines to get in!

At 5 AM, on the streets, music can still be heard coming from multiple directions.  In fact, by this hour, it almost becomes easier to find a place to eat than it was at 9 AM on Thursday morning.

Sometime in the next few hours, the blurry memory of a fun filled night fades into the next morning, likely to be delayed through at least part of that lengthy twilight period.  In my particular case, it faded into the realization that it is now noon, and Millions of New Yorkers (where the local time is 7 A.M.), despite the time difference, have woken up before me on the other side of the Atlantic!

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I only spent four days in Iceland.  I do not know the full extent of life in this nearly arctic city of Reykjavik.  I only know what I experience in this short period of time, where I did the best I could to experience the local culture.  Regardless, it does appear quite different from any place I have ever been.

 

 

Lone Star Capital

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It is with some amount of hesitation that I visited Austin, Texas.  Compared to other cities in the same region, of similar size, and with similar recent economic fortune, it gets talked about a lot in certain circles.  I am quite cautious about simply parroting what is said and done by others.  I am not a complete hipster.  I do take part in some things that are very popular.  But, I just want to make sure that whatever I choose to do, particularly with my own time, I do for my own reasons.  It is for that reason I never read the Harry Potter books, or watched certain mega-popular television shows.

Additionally, I know a lot of people who care way more deeply about certain hot-button social issues than I do.  So, when I hear people talk about Austin instead of San Antonio, Houston, or Dallas, cities in Texas that are also rapidly growing, I can’t help but feel a bit skeptical.  I want to visit a place because it is interesting, not because it has people with certain viewpoints on things that others think is important.

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What I saw in Austin, Texas, though was that the place is interesting on its own merits.  As soon as I landed at the airport, I saw sculptures of guitars displaying Austin’s pivotal live music scene.

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The river that runs through the center of town, oddly enough also called the Colorado River (I am accustomed to thinking of the Colorado river as running from Rocky Mountain National Park, through the Grand Canyon and down to Mexico), is a center for all kinds of interesting outdoor activity.  Numerous kayaks, stand up paddleboards, and these water bicycle things that I haven’t before seen, could be found on the river at any time of day I rolled past it.  Additionally, it is on the Congress Ave. Bridge over this river that one of the largest bat colonies live.  Every evening, sometime around dusk, the colony of bats swarms outside for some reason.  People line up on this bridge before sundown to watch every day!

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The nightlife there is also quite amazing.  There are several areas of town that have bars, restaurants, and plenty of youthful, vibrant activity.  It felt like everywhere I went, even at times like 10 in the morning, I would hear some kind of live music coming from some direction.

There is certainly no shortage of things to do for fun people.  My evening in Austin ended at one of the best dancing bars I have ever been to, a place called Barbarella, which was recommended to me by a co-worker.  It is the kind of bar I wish I had in my hometown, a place where a lot of people are dancing, but without the high prices and pretention of some of the clubs one will find in major cities.  This bar had a large dance floor, which was periodically infused with fog from a fog machine, some interesting lighting, and affordable drinks.  And, on the night that I was there, they were playing nothing but 80s music.  It was the kind of crowd where a lot of people were just letting loose and seeing where the night takes them.  With the number of college students and recent grads in the area, I could not help but fixate on the high likelihood that at least one person there on the dance floor was “hooking up” with someone to the exact same (80s) song that their own parents first “hooked up” to without even knowing it!

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All over town were reminders of youth, and all things youthful.  Of course, there is the campus.  Last weekend, while I was there, a new student visit weekend was taking place.  So, the streets were filled with people, young and energetic, excited about the new chapter of their lives they were preparing to start.  Remembering it, there is nothing like this first time you go out on your own, something every 17 or 18 year old wearing those maroon t-shirts were preparing for in less than two months.  I could feel the excitement as people explored, formed new bonds, took pictures displaying the Longhorn signal, and just looked forward to what is to come.

Also, while at one of the live music clubs, I accidentally (as in I did not plan this) wandered into a room where one of the scenes in the movie Boyhood had taken place.  The movie, released last year, follows the life of a boy growing up from age 6 to age 18, when he goes off to college.  I particularly related to the main character in this movie, as he grew up and developed his own set of thoughts and values.  In one scene he goes on a rant about how people use facebook that seriously could have matched word for word something I had said a few years earlier!  All this served as a reminder of how magical that part of life really is.  The hope, the promise, and the excitement of making yourself into what you are to become is one that really cannot be matched.

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Oddly enough, in Austin, I may have found a place that shares my values, including the very values that made me hesitant to visit the place in the first place.  This poster particularly resonated with me.  I just wish I could have gotten a better picture of it.  It’s hard to get a picture of a lit up sign like this in Texas, in the sun, in the middle of the day.

The phrase “Stop Being Livestock” is definitely a play on the University’s team name; The Longhorns.  But it definitely also depicted how I, and many of us, feel sometimes in the working world.  I mean, every large organization has a department called “Human Resources”.  Just thinking about that phrase gives me goose bumps sometimes.  That person, sitting in the cubical farm, is a “resource”.  Maximizing that resources’ output sounds a lot like fattening up a cow, or getting as many eggs from a chicken as possible.

Around town I heard plenty of intellectual discussions like this one.  Some locals described Austin as having an uber-sized commitment to individuality.  It appeared as if this commitment was genuine, based on everything I had seen around town.

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From the intellectual nature of discussions, to the outdoor activities people engage in, as well as all of the bike lanes I saw all over town, it felt like a place that shared my values.  I would definitely be more likely to find people that understand me here than in many other places.  It is just ironic that these were the values that made me more hesitant to come to Austin in the first place.