Scouring the streets of Sin City looking for the itinerant raconteur of my youth.

The view from my fleabag.

The view from my fleabag.

A Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie story

Let’s hit the road, toads.

Home loves me, and, surprisingly enough, I love it, but I’ve been chained to a dog for ten years, and it’s time for me to put some miles behind me.

Last Thursday, on Independence Day, my dog Naso died — you can read about that in my book Sun City. Friday morning, my wife Adora and I buried her on a hillside outside of Show Low, on ground she used to love to run. By Saturday, I was publishing the book about her death, and on Sunday morning — this morning as I write this — I hit the bricks, Las Vegas bound.

Brother Willie is on the road again, but it’s a very different Willie this trip. I have a wife now, and a home to return to. Tramps like us, baby we were born to run — but not so much anymore. I’m not gone for good, like I always would have been before, but I don’t want to be. I want to wander; it’s what I do. But I’m tickled at the idea of having a home to go to, and I plan to go home often, once a month at least, just for the experience of having a home to go to.

And I’m too suburbanized anyway. Every day I can, I get up early and ride my bicycle around Sun City. I have a 2.5 mile route I cover in 2, 3, or 4 laps for exercise. I call that one The Bolivar Shuffle — practically speaking because I can’t think about something without giving it a name. I have another route called The Oakridge Diversion that I ride slowly, just as a diversion; a lot of stories get worked out on that route. Either way, I am always the same old Willie, even though I know I look like a pampered yuppie to the Mexican gardeners who tend to Sun City’s pampered lawns, but — face it — they’re not entirely wrong.

Every time I’ve stayed anywhere a while, I’ve always bought a used bike and a pawn shop guitar, selling them back on my way out of town. The bike I have now was bought new, and it wasn’t cheap. And right now I have — count ’em — four guitars. They were all bought new, also, and two of them cost more than I’ve made some years — which still ain’t a lot of money. But the point is, Brother Willie is settled down. I want to get some dirt on my shoes digging up some new stories, but I may never again be the itinerant raconteur of my youth.

For one thing, I have a car of all things. I’ve been continuously wheeled since the day I met Naso, and cars and dogs go together like cops and donuts. And even though I no longer have a big goofy girl to hang her tongue out the window, I’m not prepared to go back to hoofing it or hitching it to get around. The best way to see the world is on foot, always, but I have grown very comfortable with instant high-speed transportation.

Like this: I made it from Sun City to Sin City in less than four hours. Cozy like a sofa and decent radio most of the way. I had my smart-phone — ahem! — and I had internet access every time I checked. And I’m staying in a hotel! It’s a fleabag, but it beats sleeping in an actual bag. I don’t think I’ve gotten soft — I may not know for sure for a while — but I’ve come to be very much accustomed to the softer life.

And I’m in Las Vegas in time for The World Series of Poker. If I have an actual job, it’s Professional Gambler. I’m a grinder, very much unsuited for big-time high-stakes poker tournaments, but I have a chance to railbird the last few contests — including The Main Event. Live poker isn’t what it was before the Feds shut down interent poker for being too much fun, but The World Series is a grand tradition even so.

And there are always side games… I’m a tight-aggressive with a tight-passive table image. What that means is that I will lose slowly to you for two hours, and then I will take every penny you have representing bullets as jack-ten offsuit. And if you don’t know what I just said, you have no business playing poker — so please be sure to sit to my left so I can check-raise you when you think you’ve got a hand.

But even then, you’re safe from me. I can’t play for big money, because I can’t stand breaking people. Pro versus pro is no big deal; I’ve busted guys who’ve busted me — and spotted ’em carfare so they could go home to break the news to the missus. But ordinary people do not actually gamble, they just show up from time to time to piss away some money they weren’t using anyway. I can stand to take a little of that money, but not too much. So I’m afraid you’ll have to find a real shark to eat you alive when you come to town.

I’m here on other business, anyway. What business? I don’t know yet. Watch this space: It could be you’ll figure things out before I do. We’re going to work our way through a dozen stories or so, and at the end of it all we just might know something.

But this is the all-new same-old Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie, a man with an itinerary even if he’s not really an itinerant these days, and a man with stories to tell, even if he is no longer the raconteur of his youth.

And it’s Vegas, baby. What do you say say we go dig up some trouble…?

PS: Who’s not a tourist? I’m appending some smart-phone (ahem!) pix from The City That Never Turned Down A Gratuity.

There is a boatload of new stuff being built. This is the construction site for The Linq, a new ride.

And while the streets are packed…

The pits…

And the slots are empty…

The good news? Obviously very soon there will be a Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie slot. The bonus game will reward you for answering brutal questions truthfully.

And while you can take the Sun City out of the boy, you can’t supplant it with Sin City instead: I got up at four this morning, and this is the fleabag view at five, as I hustled out to take on that day.

There’s a yarn unravelling out there somewhere, and I intend to find it…

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