Episode 8: A Weekend About Doing BIG Things

This weekend I got to witness human ingenuity at its finest. A demonstration of what’s possible when a man rolls up his sleeves; Keeps his chin up and his head down. Of course, I’m referring to the Hoover Dam… and Mike Tyson.

THIS WEEKEND

Yes, they used a lot of “dam” puns on their menu.

Boulder Dam Brewing Co

We stopped off in Boulder City on our way out to the Hoover Dam, and had lunch at Boulder Dam Brewing Co.

I definitely recommend Las Vegas residents and tourists alike to do this DAY TRIP — Boulder City & the Hoover Dam (if you haven’t already).

I mean, the Hoover Dam. C’mon. You haven’t been there yet? This thing is right in Las Vegas’s back yard — just a few minutes from Henderson. A spectacle of modern engineering. One of man’s greatest feats, challenged only by the Great Pyramids or the Great Wall of China, or maybe other structures we tend to put the word “great” in front of for a reason.

The patio at Boulder Dam Brewing Co

And it’s ours (well, and Arizona’s, and a few other states). But it’s part of our city. An important slice of American history, and the valley’s source for water and clean power, neatly tucked away just out of reach and out of mind.

And Boulder City. The Hoover Dam project was so massive, that it made more sense to just build an entire city for the 5,000+ workers. As a result, Boulder City is one of few cities in the country that was planned and built entirely under the government’s supervision.

And there it sits today. Just outside the gaming mecca of America sits this tiny little one-horse town. Adorable little restaurants and antique shops. Boulder City is Smallville. It’s Storybrooke. It’s Punxsutawney. It’s anywhere, America.

The Boulder Dam Brewing Co was awesome. They were brewing about 6 beers; the two we ordered were delicious. They had a peach beer on tap for spring, and amazingly it was not too, you know, peachy. Our food and our service were awesome, too.

On to the Dam!

Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam might not have been a thing. Seven states in the southwest were at an impasse. They all agreed on two things:

  1. That the Colorado River was a bitch, and
  2. They needed a sustainable and controllable water supply. But they argued over how.
Golden Dam Water

Hoover was instrumental in the unsticking. The Colorado River Compact split up the river and allowed for storage dams to be built. You could say it… paved the way for the dam? Maybe he just… kept the flow going? Made sure the talks didn’t… hit a wall? Okay, I’m done.

Abercombie Poster at the Hoover Dam?

Finished in 1936, the Dam was built in just 5 years — 2 years ahead of schedule. Before any work could be done on the dam, crews spent 2 years digging massive tunnels on either side of the Colorado River to redirect it, so that they could build the Dam where the river naturally flowed. Two years, just for that.

Then eventually, there were a couple of years of pouring concrete. Precisely a barrel of the stuff every 88 seconds, 24 hours a day in 3 shifts, every day of the year (except Christmas and Independence day, duh).

Hoover Dam brings power, irrigation for farming, and recreation. But no women, apparently :(

That’s every 88 seconds, without stopping, for 2 years, until 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete was poured. To give you an idea, that’s enough to pave a 4-foot sidewalk around the equator.

At peak, 5,300 workers were on the payroll of the Hoover Dam project. But all said and done, over 21,000 people contributed to it. Oh, and one dog:

No, this is not a control panel from the USS Enterprise. Nerd.

We took the tour. You go down into the power plant, which is just nuts. I just can’t express the sheer magnitude of this facility.

That picture there (the one that is NOT a control panel from the USS Enterprise) is a map of the facility.

And this is a picture of one of the four outer ribs — penstocks carrying water to the power plant. Enough water passes through each one of these pipes to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every 7 seconds.

17 giant turbines generate electricity as water passes through them at 45 miles an hour, spinning their magnets against copper coils. Each of the turbines weigh more than 2 Statue of Liberties. That’s a lot. (Sorry, Libby. Just don’t ask us if you look fat in those robes.)

1.3 million people are served power from the Hoover Dam, including me.

But the outside is where the real spectacle is — and probably why a million people visit this place each year.

Human Ingenuity

Stephen Hawking announced a mission to Alpha Centauri this week. In his announcement, he had this to say of humanity:

What makes human beings unique? There are many theories. Some say it is language or tools, others say it is logical reasoning. They obviously haven’t met many humans.
I believe what makes us unique is transcending our limits. Gravity pins us to the ground, but I just flew to America. I lost my voice but I can still speak. How do we transcend these limits? With our minds and our machines.

Besides Hawking and his Russian friend, if any collection of people on this planet live up to those ideals, it’s us Americans. If America has any cultural identity, it’s that.

In fact, America’s motto is printed on our money: E pluribus unum — Out of many, one. We are a collection of independent people — every one of us not too many generations away from the ancestor who left everything and bravely traveled across an ocean to an unknown world.

It’s in America’s DNA to be independent. To strive for success. To seek all kinds of freedoms. That’s what bonds us together, and separates us apart. It’s why we’re the innovation capital of the world. Why we’re home to Google and Apple, the cultural mecca that is Hollywood and the birth of the auto industry in Detroit. We’re jazz and motown; Thomas Edison and Neil Armstrong. We’re the internet. We’re Kanye Fucking West.

And if America is the best embodiment of those ideals in the world-at-large, Las Vegas is the same with respect to America.

Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge and power leaving the plant

At first, Las Vegas was part of the western frontier and a place for mormons to go and be mormon. Then during the Great Depression, it represented an opportunity for thousands of workers to be a part of the largest concrete structure the world’s ever seen. Finally, a boomtown of casinos and resorts. Southern Nevada has grown so much so fast.

Las Vegas takes America’s blue ribbon for the percent of our population who were born in other cities (80% of us). We’re a city of brave travelers who came here within our lifetime from all over the country — and the world — for a chance at a new and better life.

We call that “the bathtub ring”

It was ingenuity like that of the Hoover Dam that made this city, and it was the ingenuity of those who stayed here, and those who came after, that made this city what it is today.

As a marketer, I’m a bit biassed. I see Las Vegas as having been built on marketing ingenuity. We convince 40 million people every year to pack their shit, find a sitter, and travel across the country to come to the middle of the desert for a few days. Not because they have to. Because they want to. And we convince them to come back again and again, to support the 2 million some-odd folks to dared to live in the desert southwest.

In Las Vegas, we’ll do what it takes to get the job done — always have. (Because no people = no money.) It’s the kind of job only a marketer can do. But we don’t rest there. It’s about constantly reinventing. Constantly asking ourselves what’s next. What’s better. Then rolling up our sleeves and fucking doing it. And if something gets in our way, we’ll blow it up. We’re always looking ahead like that.

Las Vegas is built on that shit. In Las Vegas, if you can sell us your crazy dream, we’ll let you give it a try.

Want a volcano that spews lava in front of your hotel? Sure! Want a functional Venetian canal, gondoliers and all, running through your shopping plaza? No problem! World’s biggest ferris wheel? We gotcha.

The Stratosphere Tower just started off as a guy who just wanted to make a really big marquee for his hotel — the tallest marquee ever, in fact. Well, he got it.

But Vegas’s marketing ingenuity can be subtle, too. It comes in the form of millions of invitations to private mailboxes and inboxes around the world, with just the right offer to bring you back; VIP events for high-end gamblers run CONSTANTLY in this town, and you might not believe the spectacle if you’ve never seen one; a small army of casino hosts sell our casinos, while convention sales reps sign our major conventions; and on and on and on.

Then of course, there’s the buildings themselves. Amazing restaurants and retail shops and spas and attractions and giant $150 million nightclubs booking Tiesto and Calvin and Deadmau5 and Avicii and Guetta.

When we want something, we go get it. Which is easy, because we just check out what everyone else has done and double it. Have you seen our state-of-the-art wholesale furniture convention hub? Have you been to strip clubs in other towns? Yeah, they’re not even close.

We wanted to get into furniture wholesale, so we did. With a building you could fit a space shuttle in.

It’s also about bringing entertainment, because with all sorts of entertainment comes all sorts of people. That strategy’s worked for us too. Las Vegas has become synonymous with the headquarters of Elvis. Wayne. Of Brittney. Elton. Seinfeld. PBR. NFR. CES. At least 18 of Cirque du Soleil’s productions. UFC. NASCAR. And of course, boxing.

I remember growing up in the ’90’s, boxing was huge. I’m not sure why, and I’m not sure what happened, but it was in its golden age. And the Las Vegas Marketing Machine was all over it. The MGM Grand. Caesars Palace. Every casino in town owned the first 20 rows of every fight for their most important casino customers. And if you watched a match on TV at home, back in Cleveland or wherever, you were watching it happen live from Las Vegas.

And at the center of it all was Mike Tyson. Wunderkind of boxing.

Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth

Mike lives in Las Vegas now. He has for a while. I know, because I was notified. (See: Nevada Sex Offender Registry. OMG, he’s like 0.5 miles from where I live!!) You may have already known because his tiger was stolen by the cast of Hangover.

It was here in Las Vegas where he had some of his most historic fights. And it was here in Las Vegas that he conceived of and performed his first one-man show, Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth.

He found enough success with it to tour around the world. Now he’s back with a limited run, back where it all started, the MGM Grand. This time not in the Grand Garden Arena, where he boxed. Or even in their large auditorium, where he debuted the show. But in the quaint 200-some-
 odd-seat Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club “in the MGM Parking Garage,” as Brad says.

In his one-man show, Mike tells some of the most surreal stories. The perfection in his execution is in his flaws. He awkwardly interacts with video clips that accompany sporadically. There’s a whole section where he puts on a wig to do an impersonation. He shadow boxes and prances around the stage.

Sometimes it seemed like he was so fluid with his stories, like they were a part of him, and he would get so excited and go so fast that all his words would start flowing together. And other times, it felt like he forgot his lines. On top of all this is his lisp and his high-pitched voice… You probably catch about 80% of it.

What I guess I knew, but didn’t really know, is how rough Mike’s upbringing was. He was arrested a million times. He liked to steal things and he liked to fight. And it’s probably a good thing, growing up a not-so-bright, poor, bipolar, chubby kid with a lisp. (His words.) He’s basically the black Forest Gump of the boxing world. (My words.)

When he decided he was gonna go for boxing (as a teenager), he decided he was going to the very top. And he trained accordingly — longer and harder than everyone else. He got up before dawn and went running in the snow because he knew his competitors wouldn’t. He was in the ring with adults before he could legally vote.

And it paid off. Iron Mike held all three heavy-weight belts at the same time. He held the record for fastest knock-out (7 seconds). He won 50 fights in his career, and just a handful of losses. He was signing with Nike and Pepsi. He had a Nintendo game in his name. He was unstoppable.

All in all, Mike made $40 million in the boomtime of his boxing career. But when it all came crashing down, he went bankrupt. (He’ll get into that part for you — that part’s pretty good. Hint: There was lots of drugs and alcohol and hookers on the payroll.) But that didn’t stop him. He bounced back. He persevered. Again.

Look, I’m not saying he’s the best guy ever, or we should make him a hero. And that’s part of the awkwardness of this show. He’s got a history of spousal abuse, adultery, drugs, and felony convictions.

And he laughs about all that in the show. Not because he takes it lightly, but because it weighs so heavy on him. It tore him down to nothing. And now he has to build himself back up. And he now recognizes his folly.

My point is he’s a fighter. He overcame so much — so many weaknesses, not just once, but continuously throughout his life.

Apparently Bad Owl is Harry Potter-themed?

Each time, he kept fighting, in the ring and out. And this time has been no different. He’s done TV shows and interviews. He did Hangover. He’s clean off drugs. He’s religious. He’s married with children. And now he’s here, at the MGM Grand, doing his little show about it.

Bad Owl Coffee Shop

Fancy drip thingy for hipsters!

We grabbed some coffee before the show at Bad Owl. As you may know, I love supporting local coffee shops because:

  1. Dammit, I love coffee.
  2. Starbucks coffee kinda sucks.

This place is great. They make a delicious cup, they have one of those fancy drip things for hipsters to enjoy, and so far, they aim to please.

If you live in Henderson, please go there. I can’t prop these places up on my own.

Even if you don’t live in Henderson, maybe still stop by for a latte on your way to check out Mike Tyson’s house, now that you know where he lives.

Satay

For dinner, we went to Satay. It’s like Thai-Malaysian fusion? I think the chefs are from Malaysia, but Thai seems slightly less exotic in Las Vegas or something…? Anyway, they call it a “Thai Bistro.”

I used to come to this place all the time when I worked right around the corner. Their food is just amazing, and they’re open late. And it’s right in that fun plaza with Tacos & Beer! (AKA Formerly Firefly)

Our server spent the first 9 years of her life in Myanmar. Then her family moved to Thailand, and eventually Las Vegas. She’s been in Las Vegas for 10 years. These are the kind of people that live in Las Vegas. Talk to them. There are a lot of those stories out there.

Where will your life take you? When you look back, will it be a life that is a good match for your potential?

We all have the power to be great, in one way or another. How will you find your greatness?

For all weekend recaps, visit maketheweekend.com.

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Originally published at www.maketheweekend.com on April 19, 2016.

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