Wed. Aug 17th, 2022

I know a lot of photographers. The most talented still shooter with whom I’ve had the pleasure of drinking a pint is a guy named Neil Stoddart. Neil is a Brit who shoots a lot of portraits, poker, amd music–a mix of creativity and skill that humbles me every time I’m in his presence. Beyond that, although I’d been to four or five different countries with the guy, I didn’t know a whole lot about him until this year’s World Series of Poker.

Neil and I spent a bit of time on breaks together. I got him into Lime Tossing and enjoyed his easy-going manner. One day, he looked up and asked, “Have you ever been to the Fireside Lounge?”

I looked up at him. “Is that here in Vegas?”

Neil is a friendly guy and not one to poke fun. Still, the look on his sanghoki face made it clear that I was being a bit dense. “Yeah,” he said.

“Somewhere off-strip?” I guessed.

“Um, no.”

As it turns out, the Fireside Lounge is at the far end of the strip and connected to a place called the Peppermill. It’s been there for, well, forever and, as far as I can tell, pretty well known to everybody except me.

The next few minutes became a game of “Have you been to?” with Neil asking the question and me answering “no” every time. After Neil walked off, I stood wondering how in the hell my British friend had seen all these cool places in Las Vegas in just a few days, while I’ve been there more times than I can count and have never seen one.

The answers were pretty easy. First, when I go to Vegas, I rarely leave the sight of a poker room. If I do, it’s usually to sit at a bar or sleep for a few hours. I know the poker part of the Strip pretty well. I know some of the nice restaurants. I know the Pai Gow pits and the video poker bars. That’s, sadly, about it.

Holy hell. I don’t know Vegas.

Neil is a poker player, but he is an artist first. Artists need a spring of inspiration and experience is the perfect petri dish. It doesn’t matter if he’s not carrying his camera. He’s living and his art lives through his experience. That’s how he saw a different Vegas so fast.

This past weekend, some of the local G-Vegas boys got together for a friendly game of $5/$10 HORSE at BadBlood’s house. It was a game of good-natured ribbing, donkish poker play (yeah, I was the loser), and well-constructed prop bets. Oh, and a couple players drank wine our of beer steins. It may not have been the best poker ever played, but it was a change of pace.

I guess we all get in ruts from time to time. We do what feels comfortable or familiar until we are so bored with what’s normally fun that we forgot why we were doing it in the first place. I think the best way to rekindle the spark of the things that have always made us happy is to try to dive head first into the agar and swim. That’s why I let Absinthe get me into really expensive meals, Pauly give me music, and just about anybody buy me a beer I haven’t drank before.

Las Vegas sucked me into a rut a couple of years ago. Sure, I’ve sought out ghosts in the downtown area, but I can’t claim to really know the city. My history with it is superficial and rather bland by Vegas standards. Part of my problem is that I’ve never had a car in Vegas. I always stay on or near the Strip and don’t have a need for a vehicle. The closest I ever came to finding a different side of Vegas was the night Absinthe and I took a $40 cab ride out to the Henderson and ended up at a closing sushi joint where people were singing bad karaoke. We ended up in a poker room fit for a meth heads and got blissfully rolled by a bellman turned cabbie.

So, now, despite my better judgment, but with all the anticipation you can imagine, I’m headed back to Vegas for a longtime friend and former blogger”s bachelor party. Sure, as usual, I’m going to binge on poker. Still, I’m going to be in Vegas for a few days and would like to spend at least a little time going to a couple places I’ve never been.

So, this is where you come in, folks. Fill me in. What has my foolish consistency cost me in experience? Where should I go? I’m going to be with a bunch of 30-something married guys and, yes, taking a cab or walking wherever I go. I have no need for dance or strip clubs. I know the poker rooms and just about anything that happens at the Rio or Gold Coast. It can be in a casino, or out of a casino, a bar, diner, or whatever you think might inspire me to love Las Vegas in a different way. I’m not sure I’ll ever battle my rut effectively, but at least I’ll have some ammo this week if someone says, “Hey, what do you want to do?”

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