Life Hacks in The Pursuit of Surviving the Leap from the Cliff

Life Hacks in The Pursuit of Surviving the Leap from the Cliff

By Don Hall

I’ll confess. Jumping off the cliff of the comfortable familiarity to the virtual unknown provides slews of perspective. The process of gaining an outlook on who you are in the world, who you think you are, and who everyone else sees you to be is both painstaking and staggering in depth.

Part of me assumed that some of my street cred in the Chicago landscape would somehow make things a bit easier, the landing a bit gentler, when coming to Vegas. I mean, it’s still in the United States, yes? There are Starbucks and IHOPs and 7-Elevens here, right? It isn’t like Nevada is another fucking planet. 

Except, in so many ways, it is.

In Chicago, I had carved out a place in the live lit and theater scenes. While I was more notorious than anything else in many cliques of those worlds, I was known. I hosted The Moth for five years, for Chrissakes! Except no one in Las Vegas has even heard of The Moth and there is no live lit scene. I mean, there are, maybe, four open mics open to poetry, storytelling, and the like and the rest of the nine monthly nights are UNLV type things. Sure, there’s the Black Mountain Institute (BMI) and they do some pretty cool festivals (#BelieverFest) but the target audience is thin. My time and energy amounts to completely starting over because no one here knows to give a shit.

In Chicago, I spent a decade creating an entire events department at one of the largest public radio stations in the country and house managed one of the most popular NPR shows in history. Except that KNPR, the public radio station here has 11,000 members in a population of 2.5 million, have produced one original event in the past three years, and no one here has even heard of that NPR juggernaut of the Wait Wait… stylings.

In terms of the non-stop pursuit of the Almighty Dollar, it only helps that I was the house manager of Millennium Park if people in Nevada know what Millennium Park is but they don’t. “Uhm… it’s like Chicago’s version of Central Park” is the best descriptor I’ve come up with so far.

In Chicago, I had my parking spots worked out. I knew where to go to get a haircut. I had my favorite bars. In other words, I had my life hacks.

Now new to the Mojave, I’ve had to come up with a few new hacks to make life just a bit easier, the transition a bit smoother.


Yes, Starbucks is the awful mega chain that put countless independent coffee shops out of business here in Las Vegas. There are far fewer Starbucks in Vegas than in Chicago and the indie coffee scene is percolating. That said, I’m heading to Starbucks because they offer free fucking WiFi. When the independent places offer free internet without the hassle of getting a password or limit on my Sitting on My Ass, Writing Things for Three Hours on My iPad Pro time, I’m there. Until then, I go where the burnt coffee lives.


Las Vegas looks like a city with 2.5 million residents but it behaves like a tiny town in the center of the heartland. As one person put it “The different communities tend to circle their wagons around new people.” Given the relative newness of the city compared to much older places combined with the strange mix of tourists, long-time residents, and transient transplants, making it here is a more delicate balance. The standard bull in a china shop approach that worked in Chicago doesn’t play here (unless you have a fucking crater filled with cash).


The best way to get to know a new city is to volunteer for things you used to be in charge of. The Nevada Preservation Foundation has been a great start. I spent a day as a docent for a historic Boulder City home, met a ton of people, and enjoyed the day. Given the Mayberry-esque nature of Vegas, I met a bunch more people when Dana and I were volunteer tour guides in the historic Binion’s Casino and discovered that some of those people knew the people I had met the day before as well as folks I’d met at the BMI and KNPR. And the hors d'oeuvres were awesome.


Goddamn. You only have to get in your car and find the steering wheel so hot it burns your palms to it like that kid’s tongue in A Christmas Story once. Then you praise the thoughtful and pragmatic gift the Himmels gave you for Christmas.



I don’t gamble. It’s certainly fun to win money and, if I ever did, I might gamble. But I don’t. Ever. Win money, that is. The casino/hotels on the strip are beautiful and amazing and expensive and are designed to part you from your rubles, comrade. The off strip casinos are still casinos but feel more like community centers. The people watching is better because the clientele comes from the city rather than Iowa. And, while the buffets aren’t as high-end, they’re generally pretty good and far cheaper than the ones on the strip.


Seriously. When, like I do, you rely on GPS to find your ass with both hands, having your phone overheat 30 seconds from getting on the road, that kickass phone holder that juts up and out from the windshield is more liability than aid. Right in front of the vent and the phone stays cool and functions. And you don’t accidentally end up at Hoover Dam when you were just headed for Albertsons.


They say that Americans are suffering from more depression and anxiety at earlier ages than ever before in recorded history. This despite the fact that, according to The Woke, life was far worse in the ‘40s and ‘50s. They also say that stress is likely a lot to do with this sad fact. When jumping off a cliff into an unknown city to start a new life (like a pioneer on the Oregon Trail except with a Prius, antibiotics, and Slim Jims) finding ways to calm down, get some perspective, and remember this place is extraordinary is essential. Best thing to do? Go outside in your bare feet wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Every morning. Sit quietly for a few minutes at night and look at stars you haven’t seen in decades. Go to the strip and just look at all the neon and human activity and understand that you are not important but what you do with your limited time can be.

I don’t suffer from anxiety, depression, or even a lot of stress. Perhaps it’s because I don’t gamble and explains the Han Solo hair. I do, however, understand the idea of readjusted expectations. I do comprehend something that chattering voice in the back of my skull keeps telling me: I am not employable so I need to employ myself. This is not to say that I can’t make money or work for a company of some stripe. It is to say that at fifty-three years old (supposedly the second most creative time in anyone’s life is their fifties), I’m the best boss I’m ever gonna have.

That resting on your laurels thing only works if you kept the laurels (whatever the fuck laurels are…)

The best life hack for my migration to the desert is writing, playing my trumpet, telling stories, creating live lit shows, meeting people, doing some grunt work, and taking my own advice instead of just giving it. Also, ignoring most of everyone else’s problems because most of them don’t give a flat fuck what I think anyway.

I’ve found Vickie’s Diner, Big Dog Brewery, Stephanie Street, the UNLV campus, The Writer’s Block, Rebar, the buffet at Boulder Station Casino, Ninja Karaoke, a gym for $31 a month that has a pool, hot tub, sauna and a steam room, and at least three Starbucks I can drive to and enjoy the free WiFi.

I’m fitting in nicely.

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