I wasn’t sure what to expect. Riding The Deuce (public bus that travels the strip from Mandalay Bay to Downtown Las Vegas), I found myself trying to explain the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic again. This time, it was to a Virgin Atlantic Flight Attendant. After helping her figure out how the buses worked, we took seats next to each other and chatted about our current Vegas trips and, after she asked why I was in town, I began talking about VIMFP. “It seems to be like a comic book convention but instead of talking about and celebrating comic books, we just love Las Vegas,” I said as we took the long Deuce ride down the strip. While the Deuce is a great value at $8 for a 24 hour pass, it can take over an hour to travel from the south end of the strip to Freemont Street. But, I wasn’t in a rush and I was enjoying my conversation with the British woman who was in her 50’s and was a frequent Vegas visitor. I watched the daylight fade from my bus window as we passed the lights of the Aria, the fountains of the Bellagio, the grandeur of the Wynn, the gaudiness of Circus, Circus and I finally stepped off the bus on Freemont Street, took a deep breath in the night sky and was ready to meet the good people of VIMFP.
Walking through The D, the VIMFP host site, I hoped to recognize some of the people I had connected with via social media. I didn’t anticipate the confusion and awkwardness of trying to identify people via their profile and posted pictures. I wandered the casino, played some video poker, had a few drinks, signed up for a player’s card, and anxiously anticipated the start of the World Series of Satin Casino Jackets. I stumbled upon a large group of people who were unquestionably part of VIMFP.
The first person I met was Michelle from Five Hundy By Midnight which was a great introduction to the world of VIMFP. She had such a kind and welcoming demeanor and, sporting her blue casino jacket and pink umbrella, introduced me to a few others. As over 20 participants registered for the competition, one contestant really stood out. Derek Stevens, the CEO of The D, wore a custom made jacket embroidered with the twitter names of the organizers, Our Lady Peace (the featured concert) and the name of the event, #vimfp . I shook his hand, introduced myself, and told him that he was awesome. By the end of the weekend, I didn’t just think that Derek Stevens was a very nice man, I thought he embodied what I try to teach in my leadership classes.
As the event started, I realized what was happening. The contestants were lined up in the Vintage Casino (2nd floor of The D) and riding the elevator down to the Long Bar located in the main casino. I raced down to the Long Bar and as I approached the bar, I felt like I had finally arrived. What was probably 30 or 40 guys and gals wearing random Vegas apparel standing in front of the bar overwhelmed me. A large human with a scraggly brown and gray goatee stood in front of them all screaming through a megaphone introducing each of the contestants. @chuckmosnter (no, I don’t know his real name) who is one of the primary organizers of VIMFP and one of the men behind Vegastripping.com called down the contestants as they twirled and showcased their vintage and sometimes bedazzled jackets. As this was happening, I was still trying to figure out who everyone was. Fortunately, I connected with @dentondallasb, or Roux, who took the time to introduce me to the majority of vimfp’ers and bought a round of Coronas. Great hanging out with Roux who helped me acclimate to the world of VIMFP. Thanks to Roux, I had a great conversation with Hunter (@hunter) about his work with his @vegasmate app, Dr. David Schwartz (@unlvgaming) about his book Grandissimo and Tim (@fivehundy) about he and Michelle’s podcast. Talking to Tim, I was interested in hearing from him about how most of Las Vegas hasn’t figured out how to engage the Vegas bloggers. He shared with me his thoughts that most PR departments are so used to people looking for comps and free rides that they don’t know what to do with a group that has a genuine interest in reporting Vegas developments and lending authentic opinions and reviews of Vegas. In speaking with him, I learned more of Derek Stevens’ relationship with members of VIMFP. Not only does he pay attention to this group, which he certainly considers stake holders in his success, but he engages us. He immerses himself in the community because, he too is passionate about his work and his town.
My first night ended with a few more drinks, a few more conversations and a long ride on the bus back to the Luxor.
In the morning, after playing some slots at the Luxor and enjoying an iced coffee, I made my way back to the bus stop and hopped on for another long ride to The D which took longer than I anticipated. I arrived right before The Main Event started and sat in the back next to a very kind man named Bill. I was the first to purchase Grandissimo at VIMFP according to Dr. Schwartz. Sitting with a rum and diet coke, the Vegas Gang and Five Hundy live shows began. What was most interesting is how much celebrity they enjoy amongst this community and rightfully so. They represent so much of what Vegas enthusiasts, such as myself, enjoy. It isn’t just spending a few nights in a resort, having a few drinks, playing some games, enjoying a show and soaking in some sun by the pool. We love everything that makes Vegas unique including its history, past and current characters, continued developments and the politics behind it all. I really believe that @misnoper (no, I don’t know his real name) said it best. “We can easily be into model trains but we’re not. We’re into Vegas. Everything about Vegas…the minutia of Vegas. Everything,” @misnoper.
The Vegas Gang interviewed Zach Conine , Vice President of Development for Fifth Street Gaming about the new Downtown Grand as well as Derek Stevens about his purchase of the old courthouse. Five Hundy by Midnight followed them. Tim and Michelle are a fascinating couple. Listening to them every week, you get to know them a little. Watching them interact live and host their show, you realize just how much chemistry they have as a couple, team and Vegas enthusiasts. My wife and I share a love for Vegas that I thought few couples could match. Well, Tim and Michelle got us beat. As much as I enjoy listening to their reports and respect their thoughts, I believe that what ultimately makes them successful is their chemistry and, dare I say, love. Corny, maybe but completely true. What was, arguably, the most touching moment of the entire event was celebrating the contributions of Jay Sarno through Dr. Schwartz’s book launch. I believe that most of the room was surprised and in awe when Freddy Sarno, the son of the late Jay Sarno, thanked not only the author but everyone in the room for acknowledging his father’s work. I think that’s what I ultimately felt in the room. VIMFP is more of a party celebrating Vegas as much as it is convention discussing Vegas but it is ultimately a group of 200 or so Vegas geeks sharing their love of Vegas with each other.
Maybe no one embodied this more than Derek Stevens. He participated in all aspects of VIMFP. He’s a throwback to the days of Benny Binion when the guy in charge would get to know his patrons, his staff, their names and just talk to them. Derek, and his wife, Nicole did more than they needed to and I’m sure I don’t know everything they donated and contributed but I noticed a few things and made a few assumptions as an event planner. The event was free to attend so I’m going to assume that The D donated the showroom which also included bartenders and waitresses. The D’s staff helped coordinate the World Series of Casino Jacket competition by clearing traffic as well as the VIMFPtuckey Derby. The D donated prizes including a comped stay and dinner for two to the winner of the VT Match Game. I have to believe that Derek Stevens had something to do with the Mayor issuing proclamations for both VIMFP Weekend and Jay Sarno- Grandissmo day. And, he obviously coordinated the Our Lady Peace Concert. As much as it pains me to say this, I’m not a fan of downtown Vegas or Freemont Street but I’m a huge Derek Stevens fan. I see what he’s trying to accomplish and I believe that, because of his work and efforts, eventually he will attract a broader clientele.
Later that evening, Derek Stevens introduced Our Lady Peace which was the final “act” of VIMFP weekend. As Derek left the stage, the band began to play and the canopy over Freemont Street streamed videos of the band and, most impressively, scrolled the twitter names of the VIMFP organizers. Looking around, I could see Tim, Michelle, Hunter and Chuck all stare in awe as their names scrolled continuously across the canopy. As Tim said via twitter, ” Mind-blowing to see @fivehundy scrolling on the @FSELV canopy as @OurLadyPeace plays. Unreal. #VIMFP,” @fivehundy . Our Lady Peace was amazing and I enjoyed standing in the VIP section (thanks once again to The D) for the show.
As the show ended and VIMFP came to a close for me, I wanted to thank Derek one more time. I saw him in the casino, tapped him on the shoulder, and said, “I’ve been here for the last few days with VIMFP and I just want to thank you as well for everything you’ve done.” I asked him if I could take a quick picture to which he agreed and said, “I came. I saw. I Vegased! I love your shirt.” Yeah, I’m sending him a shirt.
As I walked in front of The D one last time to make my way to the bus stop, I said goodbye to some of the great people I met and saw Tim and Michelle walking down Freemont Street, holding hands, in love with Vegas. The way it should be.