Getting to Know: Michael James, New Contributing Writer

“Getting to Know” is our series where we introduce new writers, contributors and familiar plus noteworthy Vegas residents to Vegas Bright. Today we introduce new contributing writer Michael James. A participant in various Vegas Messageboards and sites, Michael is happy to be here at Vegas Bright. We all look forward to his future words and works. For now we turn things over to Michael James.

Vegas Resident or Visitor:
From Milwaukee, WI

Hobbies/Interests:
Bowling, poker, attending sporting events

Do we know you from somewhere?
A poster on Vegas Message Board. An occasional caller on Five Hundy By Midnight podcast. Occasional poster and commenter on the Vegas Tripping site, and my own blog that I link to wherever I can find an opportunity to link to it.

What kind of topics would you write about? 
My location is a limitation of how often I come to Vegas, but my bankroll is a limitation, too.  I can either bring a lot of money once a year or less money twice.  I choose two visits most years.  That said, only being out there a few days every six months doesn’t allow me to provide regular updates on the floor designs of casinos or the latest happy hour menus; other contributors can do that more timely and far better than I can.  My topics would generally be what I enjoy about, and what I’ve enjoyed doing in Las Vegas.  Two trips per year with a limited bankroll also forces me to be creative with my budget, and I can pass along some of those tips as well.

Gamble much? 
Um, yeah… maybe too much.  Nickel craps is my game, but the variance is too high to devote as much time as I want.  I am pretty good at video poker, but I don’t have the patience to sit and play the same game for hours on end. And a side note to all you hardcore VP devotees… Changing from Bonus Poker to Loose Deuces isn’t really changing games.  Blackjack is OK, but it’s hard seeing that J5 against a dealer K for (seemingly) the 24th consecutive time.  Some slot machines are entertaining, and I know the odds are pretty poor… though I sometimes get captivated by all them purdy colors.

Club much?
I’ve never clubbed my wife.

See shows much?
I wouldn’t mind seeing more than I do, but they are in no way a priority.  My wife and I have seen and enjoyed shows like The Rat Pack is Back (when it was at the Plaza) and Momma Mia! (when it was at the Mandalay Bay), but we haven’t gone to any shows in the past few years.

Wine and Dine much? 
See, here’s the thing (and I can hear it already… “The new guy is going to get preachy on us”).  I don’t get the fascination of drinking yourself stupid in Las Vegas.  Much of the PR blather from the resort owners talks about how gambling is not a big deal in Vegas anymore because people can gamble in almost every state now.  So their solution?  More bars and clubs!  News flash to them… I’ve been drinking in my state for longer than I’ve been gambling in my state (OK, my preaching is over. Less drinking for me leaves more for everybody else).

Now dining, that’s in my wheelhouse!  I sometimes think my trips get longer each time because I want to enjoy the restaurants I loved from a previous visit while also checking out new places.  I am a big fan of Gordon Ramsay Steak and BurGR, was at Pizza Rock once in the middle of the night and need to go again for a proper opinion, love DuPar’s pancakes, etc.  However, I also love searching out off-Strip gems.  For example, before they became a casino staple, I found and fell in love with Hash House A Go-Go on Sahara a few miles west of the Strip.  I’ve had three breakfasts at Eat. (And don’t get me started on a business that starts its name with a lower case letter and ends it with a period; good thing the food was great.)  One time we even searched out the Original Pancake House on Charleston and Decatur – before it burned down, of course.

Spa much?
What’s that?

Favorite Hotel/Casino:
I’ve tried so hard to make it the Downtown Grand, but others aren’t helping.  I stayed there during their first week in operation, and I fell in love with the place.  Now they’ve closed off just about everything I liked (except the hotel).  Other than that, I don’t know that I have a favorite.  I have comps available at numerous places, in part because I like to bop around rather than to stay in one spot.

Favorite dining spot:
Any very nice restaurant that I haven’t been to yet.  To me, the exploration is the favorite part.  On my list to explore are the Golden Steer, Bazaar Meats inside SLS, the Jazz Brunch at the Wynn Country Club and after winning a really big (I mean REALLY BIG) jackpot at Carnevino inside Palazzo.

Favorite eating spot (we feel there’s a difference between eating and dining)? 
Can’t go wrong with $0.99 Nathan’s Famous dogs inside LaBayou, can you?

Favorite drinking spot?
The Pai Gow Poker table with a group of friends as we wind down another busy day.

Favorite off-the-strip spot?
The Boulder Highway.  They still have neon down there (as opposed to LED advertising screens on the Strip and the effect-ruining Fremont Street canopy downtown).

Favorite Downtown spot?
I mentioned above falling in love with the Downtown Grand (and I am staying there on my next visit) but Binions always seems to be a meeting place for our group.  It is centrally located downtown, has all the games and just has that nice, comfortable feel.  I can hear myself think in there, too (*cough*The D*cough*)

Favorite Club?
The Ace of Clubs is pretty powerful.

Favorite activities?
Just taking it all in.  I always rent a car. So a slow, ‘putterey’ ride up the Strip (regardless of time of day) affords ample time to do just that.  Sitting at a stoplight and watching neon flicker, or watching crowds lining the sidewalks or catching a glimpse of the Bellagio fountains… yeah.  I like that.

Things in Vegas you WON’T do again:
Hey! I can’t answer that!

(What?  That wasn’t what you were talking about?  I see. Well, I guess I could reconsider…)

A couple of years ago at a convention, one of my good suppliers took me, my boss, and another co-worker to Ruth Chris’ Steakhouse in Harrahs.  I ate and drank myself into a food coma so bad that six hours later in the middle of the night, my stomach was still doing flips and I couldn’t even lie in bed comfortably. So next time, I WON’T have both the Crab Cakes and Oysters Rockefeller appetizers.

Things in Vegas you WOULD do again:
Go to The Mob Museum. I went there once, spent four hours reading everything, and as soon as I left, I felt like I didn’t absorb it all.

Favorite Vegas memory:
Spending the week there with my parents.  They had never been prior to this trip, and I was going there for a bowling tournament when they announced that they were joining us.  It was fun being able to show off things I liked about the town while also acting like a tourist again and (in part) seeing the “routine” stuff for the first time again.

Worst Vegas memory:
Seeing a teenage girl on the Mandalay Bay Tram holding a stuffed shark.

(“Hey, Dingus… Care to explain yourself?”) 

We had just sold our beloved house where we had raised all of the kids… but the space was no longer needed as they were leaving to start their lives.  Right in the middle of all of the packing and moving was a previously scheduled trip to Vegas.  I was in a really dark place about moving and also about the kids getting older (and let’s be honest, I had just suffered a bad poker beat, too) when I saw this family of four get onto the tram.  The girl was holding this shark and my mind got really weird… Did the girl appreciate the gift (likely from her parents?) Or was she just going to throw it in the back of her bedroom?  What would my daughters do?  Did they appreciate any souvenir that I ever gave them? Do they ever?  Do I appreciate what others do for me?  And how weird and out-of-context would it be if you later realized that you didn’t show appreciation for something and later tried to make amends?

This four-minute ride absolutely haunted the rest of my trip… and for many days after I got back home.

That thing you mean to do in Vegas but never get around to?
Use the VPFREE2 website to find the absolute best video poker in the valley in the hopes that a VP machine is more than just a ‘benjamin shredder’.

That thing you have to do every time (your Vegas traditions)?
Rent a car.  So much of the memories that I have can only be accomplished if I have a set of wheels on my schedule.

[image credit: Vegas Bright]