Wednesday

Gearing up for Tijuana

I get asked from time to time what I use to shoot my photos.  About a year ago, I went with a lighter mirrorless camera, the Fuji XT20.  I like it quite a bit.  I got it with the kit lens but really prefer to shoot with an ultra-wide.  Yes, I know ultra wides aren't for portrait photography but I like the way I can get in the whole scene and it works well for doing environmental portraits.  Right now I'm using the Fuji 10-24.  It's a heavy lens but so was my old Tokina 11-16. Frankly I wish they would make that Tokina lens for Fuji but eh la.

I don't have anything about my Tijuana ventures here on this blog right now but I think I will add in a few shots in an upcoming post.  The subjects of my photographs from Tijuana are not travel photography, per se, but on the other hand, it is where I travel quite a bit!  The Tijuana project was started in the spring of 2015 and it is documenting the redlight district of Tijuana aka Zona Norte. 

The Zona Norte is a wild and fascinating place.  It is home to the world famous Hong Kong Gentleman's Club which is unlike any other strip club in the world.  In spite of having been there too many times to count, I still have difficulty explaining the magnitude of that place.  Truly legendary.  The street scene itself is its own thing and I have barely scratched the surface of it, though I have managed to document quite a bit of it.

The majority of my TJ photos are on my full photo site at americalifornia.com.  I haven't added many to the site in the past couple of months but there are loads on there regardless.

Saturday

Las Vegas, part IV of IV

So by now it's Friday. We've been in LV since Monday. The Dog has had a severe ass-whipping at the tables and the slots. But I was still holding a few bucks. We decide on some retail therapy over at Fashion Show. He got great new kicks from Nordstroms and a few shirts and whatnot. I got some kicks from Journeys, plus fat laces for my shell-toes! (Men, listen up - if you don't have a lady in your life to pick out your shoes, go to Nordstrom. They have extraordinary footwear and a well-trained staff to get you looking right. Go ahead. Spend a dollar.)

Fashion Show was a fine spot to take a break from all the gambling for a minute. I imagine it's air conditioned in the summer, too.

Anyway, back to the casinos! We drove up to The Linq with The Dog remarking that it was kinda ghetto driving up to the entrance. I have to agree with him on this. The valet was not backed up, a bit surprising given that it was Friday of NYE weekend. But it was only about 2pm. My email confirmation mentioned that because I was Platinum, I could go to the Diamond checkin. So we did. Upon arrival, we were offered champagne by a go-go girl and then were called up. The fella checked us in and let us know we could get our wristbands and info for the NYE party at the TR desk. We were there on a four-day comp that included the NYE party and $150 resort credit. Cool enough for us to go ahead try out The Linq.

As a side note: CET rolled out a new program for military/veterans - free upgrade to Platinum! Go to the TR desk and show them your military ID/retiree ID or DD214 and you'll get the upgrade. Spouses are also eligible though apparently we get it only for a month at a time.... The Dog's new Platinum card has no expiration date; mine expires at the end of January. No biggie because I already had Platinum but still....

The Linq is a weird hotel. It seems to have an identity problem. We were located in "District 3" on the 7th floor. The walls inside the hotel are dark grey with randomly placed fluorescent tubes for lighting as sconces on the walls and there is this odd dotted wallpaper near the doors of the rooms - evocative of the 80s, sorta.

But inside the room, there is a bright and splashy back wall paper with jewel tones and metallics and a modern vibe. The beds are fucking fantastic there. Seriously. (also, I forgot to mention how tiny the rooms at Fremont seem after staying the large rooms at MSS.... yes, I've stayed at Fremont several times and know the rooms are smaller than most but they became almost claustrophobic after being at MSS the previous two nights....)

I wound up exploring a few different floors just to see and noticed that all were similarly decorated and EVERY ONE OF THEM REEKED OF POT. For all four days, there was a heavy odor of marijuana all over the hotel floors from all over. No big deal for me as I indulge myself (brought my own stuff from CA as it's way cheaper, though this trip was just vape pens and edibles). Just a heads-up for those of y'all who can't stand the smell...

No matches in our smoking room but they brought some right up upon a call down to the desk. This place also doesn't use individual soaps/shampoos - they're pre-loaded into pumps in the shower. No bathtub in our room. Water pressure was decent enough though.

They also had a menu on the TV that you could order up a "Forgot Something?" - no prices listed so I'm assuming it was complimentary, including Magnum condoms, tampons, shaving kits, and so on. I meant to order something but forgot to that. They also had board games you could have sent up to the room, including Twister.

Enough on the hotel itself.  On to the NYE WTF and disaster at Margaritaville....

I'm totally absolutely positive that we ate at least daily when we were at The Linq but I can only recall Off the Strip - it was okay - the burgers are TEN OUNCES each! I skipped the burger and just shared the truffle mac 'n cheese (decent) and had some green beans (excellent) and bread and butter, which was LOUSY. I sent it back.

One of the days, we walked over to Margaritaville for lunch. It wasn't too busy and we were seated fairly quickly. I wanted sweet tea but they were out or didn't have it. The server, Jared, was very nice and offered unsweet with sugar. No. That's not how it's done. I kept to water; The Dog ordered the 5 O'Clock Somewhere cocktail.

Notice how the picture on the menu does not look like the actual drink served, other than both are red in color. It's being served in a plastic tumbler that doesn't even say Margaritaville rather than a nice tall glass as shown in the picture on the menu.  Jared brought us over some orange after we inquired for the garnish. I pointed out the pineapple in the pic. He went and found some pineapple and brought it in a cup. Oy. It was tasty enough but disappointing.

We weren't starved so we split the Volcano Nachos for $19.99. They looked delightful when they arrived. Except after we ate the top layer, it was several layers of dry chips underneath. Meh.

To top it all off, they didn't really play much Jimmy Buffett. A bit when we first arrived then it switched to some sort of pop music that I didn't recognize.

In short: If you're a Parrothead, don't bother to go here. You will walk out disappointed and sad.

The Dog just reminded me that we also ate at Hash House A Go Go at The Linq. Very tasty, as usual! We ate at the bar because the wait was upwards of an hour each time we stopped by.

At some point, The Dog hit a bunch of Quick Hits for a win of $900, which put him back on the good foot. Meanwhile, I kept sliding downward with my bankroll.

Finally, it was NYE. The party didn't start until 10:30pm. Around 11pm, we cruised downstairs to go to The Vortex, the open-air space at The Linq overlooking the Strip, where the party was being held.

First off, apparently it was a SuperHeroes/80s theme. They didn't bother to mention any of this in any of the mailers. I would have probably worn a side-pony if I'd known. The menu was this:


The reality was plain/naked mini hot dogs, plain mini burgers with cheese (no way they were true Waygu) and wings of a few varieties that had a large bowl of full-length celery stalks next to it. I was surprised to see that they had even bothered to cut the stalks off the base of the celery. The line was long to get any of it. 

The dessert table offered various fudges (none tasty) and chocolate dipped coconut macaroons (decent enough but not enough to get seconds). It also offered Spiked Hot Chocolate with Bailey's in classic chocolate and in Red Velvet. I got some of it. I kid you not, it was like drinking CAKE BATTER. It was ridiculously thick but loaded with liquor. I probably would have actually finished it but drinking hot cake batter ain't my thing. You can see below how it sticks to the side of the cup. This is about five minutes after I had my last swig of it.

I wrongly assumed that everyone that was there was in on a comp - many people paid $200+ each for this "party". I found this out when we stood in line for 18 minutes to get a drink. I would have been screaming pissed if I paid that kind of money and couldn't even get a cocktail in my hand. They didn't bother to pass champagne at midnight even. They said there were party favors included but all I got was my wristband for entry. Again, it was comped so whatever but for those that paid, damn.

The fireworks went off - they seemed to be coordinated amongst all the casinos and were the same at all the buildings we could see, which was very cool. Finally, I managed to make it to the edge of The Vortex and looked down on LVB. HOLY MOTHER! I am grateful I was up at The Vortex rather than down in that crazy mess!!



Now some shots from NYE in The Vortex at The Linq:




 


A photo was also included in this and The Dog and I stood in line to have it taken. It came out cute but cripes I was wearing a lot of damn makeup! They gave us a matted 5x7 print of it but the line to pick it up was ridiculous long. I asked what happened if we didn't wait. They told me it would be at TR desk the next morning. Super! We picked ours up the next day without issue.

On Monday, Auburn was playing in their bowl game. They lost. Due to the early morning time of it airing on New Year's Day, we just stayed in the room to watch that disaster.

Monday evening, I took a minute to go meet up with my business partner's old mentor who had opened an art gallery down in the Arts District - Cliff's Airbrushing. He was as cool as I'd heard. He recently finished a job over at Bellagio doing art for their floral displays and does work all over Las Vegas.


Then, I returned to playing slots and just couldn't quite get a damn thing. Down, down, down. Eh la. That's how it goes some trips.

Monday night, we decided to go see Ellis Island. We hadn't been there for years. Apparently, we spent enough to score two free steak dinners and two free beers with dinner! The server seemed very surprised when we handed over our free steak dinner tickets. It's a tiny casino but they have a very active karaoke bar. Next trip, we'll totally go hang there for a bit.

We also stopped in to Giordano's for a deep dish. So good and worth the wait!

Finally on Tuesday, it was time to head back to San Diego. We knew that Primm would be backed up for traffic so The Dog offered to let me navigate a back route to avoid it. YAY!! We drove down through Searchlight and stopped at Terrible's to discover this:


Upon going in, it turns out Bowlingo was down for the count. Out of Order.

But I did spot these three characters, dusty in the afternoon sunlight:


No gambling at Terrible's for us but they have slots, of course.

We eased the car towards Nipton, CA, which is a super-tiny town (population maybe 40???) and the first town on the border for that road. It was purchased recently by American Green, a marijuana infrastructure company who manufactures weed vending machines. They plan to turn it into a marijuana resort in the coming year.

While hanging out in the general store examining the various marijuana accessories and t-shirts, I got a phone call from a 702 area code. I answered and stepped outside.

It was a lady from Ellis Island. She was calling to ask if I wanted to stop in for some BBQ on the house today. Apparently, we spent a LOT in the hour or so we were there. I told her we were already en route back to California. She gave me her direct number and name and told me to call ANY TIME we were in town and she would be happy to get us rooms at their new hotel, dinner, whatever we wanted.

Seriously, I'm dying right now with the absurdity of this - yes, they have hosts at Ellis Island. Or maybe they don't but they saw our spend level and appointed someone a host and told her to call me right away. It seems almost as unbelievable as the fact that we also had TWO HOSTS at the storied Club Cal-Neva in Reno, NV. Everyone was amazed that we had a host there but we did.

Anyway, I assured that I certainly would call her when I had my next dates for LV and we would definitely stay at the "new" Ellis Island hotel (formerly a Super8).

That call finished, I grabbed one pano of the whole town of Nipton, CA and settled back in for a long ride back to San Diego.




 



Las Vegas (part III of ??) - Photos of Fremont St Performers


For the past two and a half years, I've been working on a street portrait project in Tijuana's redlight district. I don't shoot much of anything unless I'm there. I decided to stretch my wings and go meet some folks on Fremont - those people who stand in the circles and perform and whatnot.

But first - some obligatory canopy shots:





This was the first guy I shot. He travels all over the United States with his ministry. His sister lives in Las Vegas and he had come down to visit her and her family for Christmas. He said he was heading to San Francisco for New Year's. Forgive me as I've forgotten his name.


I strolled down a bit more and met Casey. He gives out free hugs. Did you know that there is an International Free Hug Group? There is! Regardless, Casey himself has a full-time job and he travels for his job so he does this for fun. He told me gives out on average 500 hugs a day. I asked him how many men vs women, figuring probably 95% women.... nope. 60/40, in favor of men!


Further down, I watched Monica making those little palmetto roses. She has been doing this for about six months. She was from San Francisco and her boyfriend also makes the palmetto roses. She would come down and sit with him but the Fremont Patrol told her she couldn't just "hang out" so she started learning how to make them and now often comes down just by herself. She started with the roses and then began making crosses and realized the inner rib of the palmetto made great angel wings so she started doing that and then makes butterflies from them in the summertime.








I turned back down and headed towards The D again and this cat, Larry "The Crooner" Holmes was out singing with his very own backup dancer Ernestine, plus a few more revelers who joined in. He had an amazing voice and reminded me of OC Smith (Sandlappers may know who this is....)












Down near the Golden Gate, I met Wicked. He offers to let people kick him in the balls for a minimum donation of $20. He does this full-time and supports his wife and their son on what he makes getting kicked in the balls. He told me he had been on disability for a while for an injury he'd received at work but because he realized he could make money getting kicked in nuts, he got off the disability and just makes money doing this. He's been "in business" for four years now. His brother also does it.
















Just a few feet away from Larry was Mormon. He is one of the finest contortionists I've had the pleasure of watching. He's been doing this for more than ten years all over the world. He was so fast! I created a quick animation from a series of the photos I shot of his performance.


After listening a bit more to Larry (I kept going back to him and grooving...), I spotted these two chicas - Taylor & Megan. Taylor is on the left and has been doing this for four years; Megan has been doing it for two years. Megan is from California but says it's way too expensive to live there now and she likes Las Vegas. The girls were very popular and a large crowd formed around them, several guys getting their photos taken with them.




It was getting late so I turned back to return to the Fremont and the Chicago Bucket Boys had just started their performance. Ken & Howard are from..... Chicago! Ken has been drumming since he was 12. He's 25 now. These cats are super-synchronized and very cool to watch.




I asked a few of the performers about how it works - how do you get to perform? You basically go to a lottery every day and draw a time. It's two hours. You don't pay anything to have the space for two hours but you have to have the permit that allows you to be there. Wicked showed me his copy for the evening:


And that concludes my visit with the Circle People on Fremont Street.

Friday

Las Vegas (part II of ??)


So off to the Fremont on Wednesday. At some point, I got a text from one of my Tijuana Amigos de Santa and he alerted me to the half-price teddy bears available at Walmart on clearance. (we had a big issue this past year trying to find good teddy bears at a good price). The Dog and I hit three different Walmarts and scored piles of teddy bears!! The backseat of the fancy red Honda coupe was then loaded to the brim with about thirty teddy bears. I'm sure the valets had a real headscratcher about that!

I actually did all right at Fremont but The Dog kept getting his ass kicked and then got obliterated somehow on the tables, too, where he usually shines. No bueno!

For lunch one day, we ate at the buffet at Fremont. Really not worth the time to stand in line for. It's better to go down to the one at MSS if you're dying to eat a buffet. Got the mac 'n cheese - it had no flavor. I mean none. It tasted like plain noodles, even though I could see the cheese!

We walked down to Nacho Daddy for dinner and it was well worth the walk!! They also offer a military discount. We had the BBQ Pork Nachos - simply delightful!! It might be said that I was high as hell and probably anything would have tasted delicious but my husband was not and he loved them, too.....

Also, we ate TWICE at the White Castle down on Fremont (again, they give a military discount FYI). Good but it ain't a Krystal Burger....

We also played Sigma Derby at The D. Losses and more losses but no big whoop as the drink service was decent and it's fun to play it for a while.

Speaking of quarters, I played the coin-drop machines at Fremont. Didn't win big but didn't lose either so...I also like to play Keno at Fremont. Wound up even and they always have good drink service in the Keno area.

We did a stroll down Fremont to go check out Golden Gate. This is probably the first trip I haven't played there but I wanted to see the new interior, which was still under construction when we were there this summer. Stunning new entrance area with a lovely artful chandelier that is ruined by four television racks in front of it.




Gearing up for Tijuana

I get asked from time to time what I use to shoot my photos.  About a year ago, I went with a lighter mirrorless camera, the Fuji XT20 .  I...