Deep Thoughts by Fox

I’m no Jack Handy, but…

I’m downtown tonight, staying at The Golden Nugget. I won a two night stay along with a tournament entry for the Poker Players Championship at Running Aces the day before I came to Vegas, so I decided to spend a few days downtown. I figured I would play some cards, have a few beverages, and get some writing done. Mission accomplished so far.

I spent the last two weeks in a beautiful condo thanks to my pal Donna Lawton and I’ve spent lots of time in the high rent district when I haven’t been playing poker. When I have been playing poker, it’s been in nice casinos with great service, clean air, and my every whim available in an instant. For a price of course.

Last night I went out with two friends for a few drinks on the strip. A $14 s’mores martini with real marshmallows, a few other drinks, and an excellent meal earlier in the night, made for a wonderful evening, and even my company was high rent. Two good looking people with of high IQ and sound mind. Then I threw a few things in my backpack and headed downtown. A short drive, but it might as well be a different planet.

The poker games aren’t great downtown, though you might expect them to be pretty good. The buy-ins are unlimited in most of the games, even the $1/2 no-limit, which is almost the only game available downtown. The players are definitely odd, but they don’t make as many mistakes as you might expect. After multiple trips downtown I have yet to find and really readable and loose table like I can usually find at Caesars or The Rio.

There are more players on drugs, with blatant mental health issues, and many more tourists, but they just aren’t soft enough. And there are too many grinders. Online grinders who don’t know much about Vegas and aren’t well off enough to be staying at The Rio and playing big games all day. There are a few at every table, and a few locals who may not fit your expectations when it comes to a solid local cash game grinder but they play fairly well. The games are also raked higher downtown, with The Nugget dropping a shiny silver half dollar every time the pot hits $5. Every time I hear the clink of that metal coin falling in the rake slot, it’s a reminder that something is different here. An unexpected sound at a poker table where clay or resin chips supply almost all of the noise.

I went for a walk on Fremont streets to get some exercise and see what there was to see. Not my first walk down Fremont street at night, not by a long shot, but the first time I have been able to clarify my thoughts enough to put them into words. Maybe it was because I was alone and just walking casually as an observer with no companions to serve as a distraction. Maybe it was the contrast after such a sophisticated week. But the Fremont street experience was especially powerful this time.

At first it felt like a county fair in a poor town, but there’s more to it than that. A lot of things in Vegas are fake. The whole strip is just a facade with fake landmarks and imitation ethnic food cooked by people who have never even visited the regions where the food originated. The entertainers are all actors and the smile on the cocktail server’s face isn’t real either. The grass is artificial turf and the statues are hollow. The whole things is more like a movie set than real life, but it’s so plush and polished that the suspension of disbelief is easy. When you are treated like a king, it’s easy to believe you are a king.

Downtown, the facade is worn and you can see through it in so many places that the holes in the curtain, and the tired actors behind it, draw my attention more than the stage itself. Things are gilded here, but the gold is worn off in so many places that the surface underneath is the real fascination.

My fellow wanderers, the other attendees of this strange carnival, seem so different from me that I am separated from the pack, watching as an observer rather than a participant.This was what troubled me. They were all enjoying themselves. Dancing as if no one was watching, drinking a cheap frozen drink from a container made in China, reveling in each other’s company as if it were all new to them. They didn’t care about the holes in the curtain, or what was backstage, or who else was walking by, because they were busy having a good time. I felt out of place, but not self conscious. Different, but not inferior. When I was younger I might have felt superior to these people, as younger people tend to do when they don’t understand something, but now I was just a little sad and a little confused.

These people are not beneath me, no one is. I don’t see the world that way. But they are in such a different place it’s hard for me to imagine being like them. Maybe I’ve spent too many years at the tables and now I’m always watching for the sleight of hand instead of enjoying the illusion. I’ve certainly lost my fascination with the magic of it all. Maybe I’m a little callous and I can’t relax like they do in this environment, but just last night I was relaxed and enjoying myself completely, so I know I’m not completely jaded by the life I’ve chosen, taking money from lesser players, hunting for the less experienced and those who don’t have the killer instinct that so many of my companions have. Maybe I just need to spend some more time around my old friends. Normal people. Real people.

I guess it’s just odd that it’s all so obvious downtown. The singer in the rock band has a wig on that doesn’t even remotely attempt to look like real hair. And the back up dancers don’t have on sexy matching outfits, they just aren’t wearing much. Their dance moves aren’t in sync either, but they look like they are enjoying themselves, like maybe they don’t hate their jobs like so many on the strip probably do.

I should really like it here. There are no trust fund kids with white belts and white shoes and $200 blue jeans. There are no pathetic two hour lines to get into clubs where acceptance into the club means you are accepted into a club of your peers. No hordes of tourists getting in my way because the sprinklers are about to go off at The Bellagio in time to soulless pop music. But maybe what I don’t like about the strip is that it looks down on downtown. And maybe that’s what bothers me. That I feel more comfortable in a place where I like the people so much less.

Or maybe I’ve been in Vegas too long already. Maybe I’m too jaded and I just want to be home with my wife and my two dogs and sit on my back porch. Maybe I miss making my own Sangria instead of paying $8 a glass for it. It doesn’t feel like homesickness. Vegas just doesn’t feel like my town anymore. Perhaps I know it too well and there really isn’t that much to like. Like a friend that becomes less interesting as you get to know them, or a new toy that loses it’s luster after a few years. I used to feel like I was home when I got off a plane in Vegas. Now it feels like a place that I used to live. I can come back to visit friends and see how things have changed, but I know it isn’t my place anymore.

Trivia fact – The condo that I’m staying is on the corner where Tupac was shot. I walk over the spot where he died every day. Seems like an odd twist of fate given my full name and the suspects in his murder.

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