Sometimes, when a man is singing “Careless Whisper” at a locals bar in Las Vegas, that man takes over the room and the locals throw themselves at him.
My experience with Vegas before last weekend was more like sticking my toe in the pool. I stopped there during a rush-hour traffic jam along I-15 coming home from the Route 66 trip. Then there was last summer, when I flew in and out of Vegas during my driving tour of the western national parks.
But I had never done Vegas righteously. Last weekend I finally got the chance, and did it as it should be done: with good friends to enjoy the spectacle.
The entire weekend was like one long-running comedy routine, with new in-jokes appearing from the sights, sounds, and people of this city. We took our accommodations and had a lot of fun with it, both with the people that we saw and the location of the hotel. Staying off-Strip means you get to see that other Vegas you always hear about – the one we saw, in full color, along Fremont Street.
Ah, Fremont Street. You take the old Vegas that appears in movies, the Vegas that Sinatra and Martin knew, you put a roof over it, and you turn it into an amusement park. It was still my favorite part of the trip. The Strip seemed like a giant themed shopping mall. But Fremont Street was the Vegas that I always pictured in my head: lights, mutants, cheap booze, the whole works. If I ever go back, I’ll be sure to spend more time on Fremont Street.
No one in our little group struck it rich, nor did anything too crazy happen. The trip was four guys who know each other so well taking this spaceship of a city as it is. We walked, and took in a ball game, and saw a show, and took a trip to the Hoover Dam. And then there was karaoke. Lots of that in a bar called Ellis Island, where tourists and locals both meet for cheap (but good) beer and lots of fun.
My role in these types of trips is usually the documentarian – a role I relish. Between photos and the video above, I feel like I captured some of the best parts of the trip while still leaving those fun parts – the ones only us four guys would get – locked away in memory. That’s as it should be.
The title of the video comes from a brief snippet of Fremont Street. The showgirls, the ones on either side of the gentlemen where one whispers something in his ear, walk around ready to pose for pictures. When I stood there to get my own picture taken, the one whispered “We do work for tips, okay?” into my ear.
Nothing is free in Vegas. Not really. And that’s okay.
Call me a railing jumper. I wear it as a point of pride.
That photo of the waterfall above? I had another one from the viewing station, probably 20 to 30 feet above where I took the above shot. Then I glanced over the wooden railing that surrounded the viewing station, saw a root-studded path down to the rocks below, and jumped.
It happens often enough, especially on trips and photo assignments, that I automatically look for a way to hop the fence and find a path to get closer. It happened on that trip Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I only hesitated because there were a mom and a dad, with their two kids, standing next to me, and I didn’t want to be a bad influence on the kids.
But then I thought, “Well, why not?” Maybe the kids will get yelled at now, but isn’t it better to show them that a little rebellion will do you good?
Sure, jumping the fence could get you hurt (the rocks were slippery from the waterfall spray) or arrested (though I didn’t see a sign – but more often I do). But getting a closer view of that waterfall was worth it.
Now this kind of thing gets me in trouble. I’ve had enough run-ins with the authorities that keeps me at least pragmatically cautious. My first instinct, though, is to jump the fence – always has been.
While in Yellowstone, it wasn’t enough that I saw pretty waterfalls from the park roadway. No, I had to slide down the ravine, step into the river, scramble up the rocks, and get a closer view. Tasting the river is more memorable than seeing it from the side window.
At the north rim of the Grand Canyon I noticed, just next to the lot where middle-aged insurance salesmen parked their Buicks, a little outcropping of rock. It was dozens of yards away from the main viewing area, the one encircled by metal railing. This little ledge off to the side? The one partially covered by ragged desert brush and boulders? No one was there. It was all mine.
So I climbed it. And as my legs dangled from the edge and the tourists screamed in horror, I felt like I was getting a view that few people saw. There’s something to be said about experiencing the Grand Canyon all by yourself, with no one around, and with nothing holding you back from the void. There was no railing here.
And so it is with life. That’s pretty obvious, but the more I travel, the more I realize people are content with staying within some prescribed boundary.
This philosophy is largely situational. Rules aren’t there simply to be broken. As Dr. Renner, my journalism professor and mentor always said, “Rules are made for smart people to break.” In other words: learn the rules, pay attention, and break them when it makes sense.
If everyone broke the rules willy-nilly, there might not be waterfalls to photograph. But if breaking the rules means harming nothing or nobody but yourself, I say go for it.
Jump the fence.
Maybe it says something about my compulsion to hang there on the edge of nothing. Maybe I just need medication. I don’t know.
But while I have legs to carry me and a lack of the kind of common sense that says “stay within the boundaries,” I’ll keep doing it.
In fact, I’d recommend it to anyone.
I really encourage you to print some of your photos and if you have the space, decorate your home with it. There’s no reason why a lot of the photographic work we’re proud of should live only in our hard drive or online. People still appreciated printed material and it’ll demonstrate you take pride in what you do because you chose to have it hung rather than tucked away in dusty albums.
Merlin Mann, in an excellent talk about fear:
The Universe doesn’t care if you’re scared.
Grow old enough, and everything becomes a habit. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, you’re too old to learn something new, you’ve been there and done that – we have sayings that point to life as a long-term habit. We get in the habit of breathing, and that’s the best we can ask for.
Routine, habit – do something enough times and it becomes like muscle memory. Toss a football every day and it becomes natural. So does riding a bike. Or using keyboard shortcuts. We don’t have to re-learn how to take a shower or drive a car. It’s all routine.
Those routines can become harmful, too: smoking, bad relationships, never trying something new. Sometimes habits become comfortable (or, worse, mindless) and get us in trouble.
I’ve thought a lot about habits lately because, at least in the past few months, I’ve broken so many of them. And not just little ones, like biting fingernails, but big ones, like driving a different way to a different job every morning.
When I lived in an apartment, I had the same morning routine: get up, eat breakfast, start the coffee, take a shower, get dressed, come downstairs and drink the coffee, then head to work. Now all that takes place in a different house, and the change in location has forced me outside of the normal routine. Now, I have to think, “Where are my shoes?” And, “Did I remember to make the coffee?” Nothing is automatic anymore because I’m learning a new routine.
That’s extremely stressful for me. There came a time, early last week, where the stress caught up with me and I came down with a light head cold. Part of me thinks my body gravitates toward routine and habit so much that when I’m forced to think about my routine, my wiring goes berserk.
But given enough time, everything becomes a habit. That initial stress never lasts long, because eventually the brain figures out a new groove and settles into it. It might take some time.
What I’ve learned is that even though it’s difficult to wiggle my way out of that groove, it’s far better to suffer a bit of discomfort and unease than plant myself in some habit and become complacent. This gets me in trouble especially in relationships. And after eight years of working at the same place, I noticed that my work grooves were becoming too deep for comfort, too.
The Fear caught up with me when I bought this new house. There were a few times where the little tickle in the back of my brain sparked some stress-induced thought, like “Why the hell did I do this? This won’t turn out well.” Really, that thought came from living in the same apartment for six years. The routine was so comforting that, even though the new house is a fantastic life change, my brain had a hard time letting go of the groove.
I was scared to switch jobs. I was scared to buy a house. I was scared to break up with my girlfriend last summer, because life with somebody seemed better than life all alone. Scared, scared, scared. And it all had to do with habits. With settling into that damned groove.
That’s not to say that The Fear doesn’t creep in now and again. I still wonder what the hell I’m doing. Don’t we all?
But as Merlin says in that talk (and a lot in his fantastic podcast): what’s the worst that could happen when you break your habits? When you try something new? When you shake things up and learn and grow as a civilized person? No one’s going to eat you.
The fact is, taking a new way to work now leads me to a better job in an environment I love. Yes, I live a bit farther out of town now and have to spend a bit more in gas, but I own a frackin’ house that I can do whatever I want with.
Eventually my habits (and probably yours) will become so ingrained that I’ll be that old guy who won’t learn new tricks, forgets to make his bed, and is still a jerk on Facebook. Maybe not. The point is, now is not the time to be settling into any well-worn grooves. No, it’s time to be brave, drink a beer, and get out there and try something new. The Universe doesn’t care if you’re scared.
It’s been an incredibly stressful month or two for me. I’ve had so much to think about, and so many little decisions to make. But that’s being an adult, right? And while life is a little harder than I’d like right now, soon – I feel it, because I’m getting old enough now where I have some wisdom and life experience to back it up – it’s going to be way great to be alive.
So maybe the good habit is not being afraid to break the bad ones.
The other day my dad was talking about his cellphone, and how it liked it so much because it was simple. Flip open, find the number you want, dial and talk, and then to hang up you simply close the clam shell.
Smartphones? They’re beyond him. Why do you need all that fancy stuff when you just want to make a phone call?
I almost chalked our conversation up to one of those aren’t-parents-cute moments, but then I thought, gosh, I recently felt the exact same way.
All I wanted was a radio. Nothing fancy, no media-playing capabilities. Just something that turns on, plays a radio station, and that’s it. And I wanted it to be portable enough to carry around the house with me: in the garage, in the kitchen, or in the kitchen window so I can hear it in the backyard.
At a local rummage sale, I found exactly what I was looking for. But to find it, I had to buy something that’s probably close to the same age as me. It’s the above General Electric desktop radio, model 7-4115B. Faux wood grain, black and metal finish, and two knobs – one for volume, and one for tuning. Then there’s a little switch that you flip to go from AM to FM.
It’s gorgeous, and it’s perfect, and it only cost me $1 at the rummage sale (some yahoo at Etsy has one for $18). That little radio was exactly what I was looking for, and it works like a charm. Plus, it’s stylish in a retro kind of way. That little radio fits perfectly with my kitchen. It’s sturdy enough, and if I drop and break it, I’m only out $1. But it’s the kind of thing where I can see having it for years and years. The thing has survived this long, after all – but maybe the reason it’s lasted so long is because it’s so simple.
When I’m doing repetitive tasks, I need something in the background to listen to. Put the radio on, and I’m up for anything. But if it’s not on, it’s easy to get distracted. Turning my brain off means having music, and so this new GE radio is going to be perfect.
Sometimes, fancy is great. Having the Internet on my phone is wonderfully handy, and goodness knows I get plenty of use out of my iPhone.
But then simple can be all you need just when you need it. My dad just wants a phone to make calls. I just want a little radio to carry around the house with me. Easy. Simple. Perfect.
I’m an amateur soccer player, an amateur cook, an amateur skier, designer, racecar driver, and flyfisherman. And I’m happy to be an amateur at all of those things. Actually I LOVE being an amateur at all of those things – it allows me to dabble, make a ton of mistakes, goof around, drop the ball, not care when something else might be distracting me etc.
Being an amateur at those things means I can be comfortable. It’s safe. There is no fear of success or failure.
We often do things that we regret when we’re out of our heads. Drunk, in love, low blood sugar – whatever the reason, something causes our brain to reboot, usually the day after, and look back on our behavior in horror.
But at concerts, at least we’re doing things we regret with other people. It’s fine to act like a screw-loose reptile when everyone else is just as goofy as you.
Look around you. See all those people screaming their heads off? See how they’re gyrating and dancing in a sea of other lunatics? Notice how they don’t care who’s watching, because (probably) no one really is?
That’s why I go to concerts: to utterly lose myself in the songs I love. These kids, just like me, were having the time of their lives – and they didn’t care who was watching.
The difference is that my enjoyment didn’t stem from the music on stage. No, it came from the kids losing their collective minds. This is why I want to take pictures. They mean something. I mean, look at them. They’re in ecstasy.
Not on Ecstasy, mind you. No, there’s something about a collective musical experience that makes drugs or alcohol totally redundant. Who needs booze when you have grooves?
It makes my heart ache to see these pictures, the day after, and realize what fun we all had that night. They’ll remember the songs and their friends singing along.
I’ll remember that look on their face.