Advice to College Freshmen

Yesterday, classes started for the 2012-13 school year at The University of Montana. Besides the parking nightmare and the over congestion at the gym, I welcome the start of the new school year. I like the hustle and bustle on campus, the promise of a fresh start, the numerous welcome back activities, and of course the start of football season. On Sunday night as I became well aware that school was starting the next day based on the endless Facebook posts and Tweets I came across, something hit me: I am well removed from my college days. It is hard to believe but I was a college freshman on The University of Montana campus seven years ago. SEVEN YEARS AGO! I am definitely not getting any younger.

Besides the fact that I am now twenty-five and 2,555 days past my first day of college, I noticed something else as well. College students don’t look like me anymore…I am older and I look older. It sucks. But what really blows my mind is how young the freshmen look. When I went to cheer camp earlier this month our freshmen on the squad looked like middle schoolers! Some of the first year students I have seen over the past couple of days on campus look like they just got out of the crib. I am getting older and the college students are getting younger.

Because I am now so many years past my freshman campaign and because it looks like I could be the dad of some of these kids, I feel I am now eligible to give my advice to these students who step on campus for the first time. In this post, I would like to offer seven pointers (because seven is my favorite number) to this year’s class of college freshmen.

This was me on my first day of college at The University of Montana (August 2005).

Take Class Seriously – Go into your first year at college with a chip on your shoulder. Tell yourself that either you, your parents, or the taxpayers are paying a good amount of money for your education and you aren’t going to let that go to waste. Show up to class…every single day. Honestly, get every penny out of your investment. Don’t fall into the trap of skipping class or sleeping through it. Treat each day as a step closer to your ultimate career goals.

Use Academic Resources – There is no real reason why you should not succeed in college. Many professors will bend over backwards to help you pass class with a respectable grade. Utilize office hours, e-mail your professors, build a rapport with them. Not comfortable around your instructors? Go to the tutoring centers on campus, spend more time in the library, reach out to a T.A., join a study group. Universities want you to get your degree so they can include it in their statistics, because of this, they will do whatever possible to help you out. Take advantage of what is available and never make the excuse that enough help was not available.

Get Involved – It does not matter if you are going to a college with a bunch of your high school friends or if you are the only one in your hometown attending the institution, it is very important to get involved. College is about meeting new people, establishing connections, and branching out. I personally met a lot of people through intramural sports and through the UM Newman Center. But if you are not into sports or church don’t worry, there are tons and tons of other possibilities available. Join a club, gain campus employment, volunteer, speed date, attend events, look into student government, or just hang out at heavily populated areas on campus. The opportunities are boundless and if you really can’t find anything to do you might have picked the wrong college.

Eat Well – Most universities require freshmen to purchase a meal plan. As I encouraged you to utilize your academic sources, I also encourage you to utilize your food sources. Eat at the minimum two good meals a day. Many institutions have at least one buffet style dining area on campus. Get creative with the different options available and throughout the year create diverse and healthy-enough lunches and dinners for yourself. Avoid soda (poison for your body) and elect to go with milk or water instead. While universities will do a lot to make sure you don’t waste your education, they won’t do anything to make sure you don’t waste your meal plan. Colleges make lots of money off of unutilized meals that students don’t cash in on. At The University of Montana, the meal plan system runs on a weekly basis. You are given an amount to use at the start of the week and then at the end of the week if you have a balance left over then you are contributing those last dollars to the university as the next day you start off fresh with a new weekly balance. USE YOUR MONEY. Eat well but eat smart.

Enjoy The Gym – Before you enjoy the gym, actually find the gym and use the gym. Remember, once in college it is much more difficult to retain a respectable figure than what it was in high school. Many of us go from being three-sport athletes in high school to being zero-sport athletes in college. That is a lot of activity lost. Also, the indulgences go way up. We eat more, drink more, and disregard our bodies more. With this said, it is imperative to work out on a regular basis. Get in a routine. Once you get comfortable and have a good schedule nailed down you can really start to enjoy it. I think nothing is better than having the freedom to do whatever type of workout you want to achieve the body you want. All through high school I had to abide to strict workouts that allowed me no time to focus on what I wanted to. Once at the rec center at The University of Montana I set my own workout plans. Enjoy working on/molding the body you want. One more very enjoyable part of a college gym: the beautiful women (or men for my female readers). Appreciate the scenery but respect it too.

Develop School Spirit – Be proud of the school you attend! After all, the institution will be giving you a piece of paper the day you graduate that is supposedly your ticket to the money making world. As a token of gratitude, support your school. Attend as many athletics events as possible. As someone who works in an intercollegiate athletic department, I can’t advocate this point enough. Buy school apparel and wear it proudly. Make your school part of your identity.

Have Fun – Finally, just have fun. College can be the best four years of your life, so don’t hold back. There is nothing like being away from home for the first time, meeting new people, and developing a real sense of self. Don’t take this time for granted. Wake up each and every morning with a positive attitude reminding yourself that you are one of the privileged few in the whole world who has the opportunity at a higher education…there is no reason why you shouldn’t make the best out of it.
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Good luck to all of the college freshmen this year. Make it a great a ride. Don’t Blink.

Taking the Fun Out of Sasquatch

It seems like you can always count on Montana to generate some pretty weird news stories. Shoot, just in the past couple weeks alone we have heard about a man exposing himself to traffic-goers, a cow that got on the loose that had to be put down by a sniper, and a guy who used bear spray on young children. However, amidst a very busy day at work something even more bizarre caught my eye today as I scrolled through my Twitter feed during a meeting.

The headline read “Man dressed as Sasquatch hit and killed.” Of course with my high level of curiosity and my interest in anything conspiracy related, I had to follow the link. Knowing that the man had died, I knew it would be a rather somber story but the headline really did not do enough to say how grim it really was. The man met his final fate on U.S. Highway 93, so high speeds were involved. He was also hit not once, but twice, making for a definite grisly accident scene. Finally, providing the ultimate blow to this sad story were the drivers who hit him; the first unlucky motorist was a fifteen year old girl, the second was also a teen driver (no age or sex released). Could you imagine how these two young people must feel right now?

But let’s back up for a second. Of course I can’t get out of my mind the image of the man stalking down the highway in his Sasquatch costume, catching the eyes of confused drivers. What is this thing on the road? Should I be concerned? Should I lock my doors? Are my eyes playing tricks on me?

I love everything from UFO’s to ghost stories to the loch ness monster. I eat it up. Included with these unexplained and hotly debated phenomenon is also the legend of bigfoot. Over the years though it has seemed that the legitimacy of bigfoot has lost credibility. Grainy, 7/11 type security footage of various Sasquatch sightings have fallen under the “hoax” category. People who claimed to have seen the beast have had their accounts dismissed on the notion of their own craziness. Others have received notification that what they saw was an actual existing primate or bear. While unidentified flying objects and spirits that haunt old houses and cemeteries continue to receive credible attention from experts and enthusiasts, Sasquatch has become, well…..kind of a joke.

This latest incident has done nothing to help change the deteriorating image of bigfoot. People who knew the Sasquatch impersonator say he was in costume only to perpetuate the bigfoot hoax. He was not doing scientific research, he was not trying to become closer to wildlife. All he was doing was trying to pass on some lie. Making the story even sadder, officials are suspecting that alcohol could have played a role in the man’s actions. Can we just say now that the Bigfoot legend is dead?

But of course the real tragedy is not that some “storied” myth of a half man/half ape living in the woods took another hit. First off, a man is dead. He leaves a family behind. That alone can be considered a tragedy. But I always believe real tragedy is when the innocent are forced to suffer. I can’t stop thinking about that fifteen year old girl who hit the guy. Fresh off getting her license and probably on cloud nine because of her new privilege, she now has to live with the frightening image of hitting a man in a bigfoot suit for the rest of her life. How do you deal with that at fifteen years old? I feel equally as bad for the other teen involved as well. Could you imagine seeing someone get hit and then having no control whatsoever to avoid doing the same thing? What is this teen telling himself/herself?….”Maybe if I didn’t hit him, he would have survived.”

This story will probably make the “weird news” sidebars in newspapers across the country. It might get picked up by the television show “1,000 Ways To Die”. The late night hosts might joke about it. I mean, what is not to laugh about some wacked out guy in a makeshift bigfoot costume walking up and down an old Montana highway? Well, when phrased that way there is some humor involved. But we can’t simply just leave it at that because there is so much more to it. A person is dead and young lives are devastated. I like weird news and I like the unexplained, but not at the price of that. Don’t Blink.

Catching Up

Oh yes, I am back. I want to apologize for the two week hiatus from this blog. I could say I have been busy but if you know me, you know how much I detest that excuse so I am not going to go there. Fact of the matter is, I have not utilized my time as effectively as I could have. Over the past two weeks there is no reason why I couldn’t have set aside an hour here or an hour there to sit down and give my loyal readers some content. So again, I am sorry for my negligence. I do feel like I owe you an update on what I have been up to the past two weeks.

My summer started off with a pretty tame June by my standards. However, once July hit I entered into a tornado of activity. Leaving town multiple times and just living life up in general, the last fifty days or so have flown by. Included in those last fifty days are the past two weeks and I feel as if they have taken the speed of everything and turned it into double time. The last couple of weeks have been crazy. I have gone out of town three different times and entertained visitors to Missoula three different times. I visited a friend in Bigfork, went to UCA camp with the University of Montana Cheer Squad in Coeur d’Alene, and pursued a couple of potential life-changing opportunities. I have continued to do fun things here in Missoula such as Osprey games, the fair, and Downtown Tonight. I welcomed my friend from Spokane along with her friend to Missoula so they could experience our great city during the summer. I saw “The Campaign”. My parents came through for a very quick visit. My friend from Bigfork made a return trip to see me in Missoula. I helped another person out with a blog project. From the standpoint of my leisure life, I have had a very enjoyable time.

And then there is work. It is now late August and we are in “crunch time”. The amount of stuff to get done before all fall sports get officially into the swing of their competitive schedules is immense…but I never said that is a bad thing. While at times stressful and time consuming, right now is a great time to work in Grizzly Athletics. The state is buzzing, optimism is engulfing Missoula, events are pretty much nightly, and the students are coming back on campus. Last night we held our corporate sponsor kickoff bash, today Christie and I staged our intern orientation, and tomorrow is the Great Griz Encounter, an event where the general public gets to meet the football team at Caras Park. Next Monday will start off an anxious week leading up to the first football game and if the craziness of those several days could not get any more significant you better hold your horses because they actually do…we will welcome our four candidates for the director of athletics job to campus.

So as you can see, not only are the hours of the day packed currently, future days will be just as packed (if not more) from now on. But I have a renewed commitment to stay with all of you and make sure not to get into another blogging slump. My favorite time of the year is summer. My second favorite time of the year is fall. Thus, it only makes sense that the transition period between the two seasons that is just about ready to set it has to be pretty sweet in my book. With such an exciting time for myself, there is no way that I could not blog. Good to be back. Don’t Blink.

Brent’s Best of the Zoo

Every newspaper in every city seems to do it. They poll its readers on what is best in that certain city regarding everything under the sun from food to nightlife to retail to tanning salons to coffee places to celebrities to attorneys to etc. etc. etc. Some publications get a little too carried away and really overstep its bounds by creating way too many categories. For some reason, something tells me that some of the especially obscure categories probably have winners that only receive two or three votes…but who knows.

For tonight’s post I wanted to take this idea and add a little twist to it in conjunction with the lovely town I live in. The twist of course is that there is no democracy here nor are there 2,000 crazy categories that nobody cares about. Instead, this esteemed blogger is the only one making the judgments and the category count has been trimmed down to only include the most important (thus dealing mostly with food).

I give to you Brent’s Best of the Zoo*. There were categories that I wanted to include but knew I had to hold off on due in part to conflicts of interest in relation to my job. With those categories off the table, I made the best compilation that I possibly could. Enjoy!

Best Missoula Influencer: Aaron Traylor, 107.5 ZOO FM.

Aaron is a DJ for 107.5 Zoo FM in Missoula but his voice is just not heard only over the airwaves. With the largest social media following in the city and with his hands in about as many different pies as you can imagine, his influence blankets across Missoula. Everyone knows Aaron and that is a good thing because his number one goal is to help the community.

Aaron and I during Halloween 2011.

Best Missoula Experience: Any event/festival in Caras Park

Initially I wanted to choose Griz football in Washington Grizzly Stadium but I am trying my best not to be biased so I have to go with Caras Park! Whether it is Downtown Tonight, Brewfest, the Great Griz Encounter, Celtic Fest, or any of the other events held at this Missoula gathering place, there is no better spot in town to relax, people watch, socialize, eat, and drink. Events at Caras Park oozes Missoula and seems to instill the Zoo spirit into everyone in attendance.

It is always a great time at Caras Park. This was taken at Brewfest 2012.

Best Missoula Restaurant: HuHot

Okay, so I know HuHot is a franchise with locations in seventeen states but I just can’t overlook how good this restaurant is. Always offering fresh and creative ingredients in a cool atmosphere, I find myself craving HuHot a lot. I have dined at a lot of Mongolian grills in my time and nothing comes close to HuHot. If I get to choose where we go to eat and if I have a large appetite, we are driving to the end of Brooks to eat at HuHot.

Best Missoula Burrito Joint: Taco Del Sol

I start to salivate a little bit when I think of Taco Del Sol. Much in the same way that HuHot stands out to me as the best of its kind not just in Missoula  but everywhere, so does Taco Del Sol. When it comes to burrito shops, I think Taco Del Sol is #1. When I think of this place one word comes to my mind: flavor. There is a distinct flavor that is Taco Del Sol that I can’t get enough of. Also, it is cheap and they sell cold beer. I am a huge fan.

Best Missoula Breakfast: Montana Club

Whenever my parents come to town, it is a requirement that we go to the Montana Club for breakfast. With a breakfast menu as big as its portion sizes, you will definitely get a great start to your day. Everything about the food is high quality. I always struggle about whether to get the pancakes, the ham and cheese omelet, or the larger than life biscuits and gravy plate. Although the decision is always tough, I always leave satisfied.

Best Missoula Restaurant Server: Adam, Iron Horse

If you don’t know who Adam is right off hand, you will after I briefly describe him to you: He is the guy with the long hair set in a ponytail who is always working at the Iron Horse busting his ass off. Accurate, accommodating,  and entertaining, Adam is one of those people at the top of his trade. He epitomizes the title of his job, “server”, because that is what he does…he serves.  He is polite in that classy way that is not overbearing but respectful and charming. He always remembers me and I have had nothing but top-notch service from him the numerous times I have been lucky enough to sit at one of his tables. I can only imagine the tips that guy brings in on a nightly basis.

Best Missoula Brewery: Bayern

With a couple friends who are brewery-obsessed, it seems like I have developed a pretty good taste for all the fabulous breweries in Missoula. For me, one especially stands out and that is Bayern. The first selling point for me is the beer. I love pretty much all of the Bayern beers with Dragon’s Breath and Dump Truck earning special places in my heart. I also just connect the best with Bayern’s atmosphere. I like the two story set up and the actual bar location. If an out of towner comes and they want to experience a Missoula brewery, I am taking them to Bayern.

Best Missoula Blogger: Saskia Boogman, “According to Sauce”

Although Saskia recently penned her last post for “According to Sauce”, there is no way I was not going to choose it as Missoula’s best blog. From 2009-2012, she blogged about her experiences and adventures while working at the Missoula Hooters. Saskia took her readers behind the scenes and into the world of a Hooters girl. It was must read material. It brought her great notoriety and opportunity on a national level. On a much more local level, her blog was one of my influences in starting Don’t Blink. The combination of honesty and humor she used in writing her blog made it such a success. I already miss it greatly!

Best Missoula Writer: Joel Carlson, Grizzly Athletics

Now I said I wanted to stay away from any possible conflicts of interest but there is just no escaping this one. Joel Carlson is the best writer in Missoula period. Joel is our assistant sports information director in the athletic department at The University of Montana and the wonders he does with the written language is incredible. No one from any publication or other outfit in the city can hold a candle to him. Joel blows everyone out of the water. Early this summer he earned some well-deserved recognition as he won several national story awards, including national story of the year. Do yourself a favor right now and surf over to www.gogriz.com to view some of Joel’s work.

Best Missoula Mentor on Campus: Keith Graham, Professor – School of Journalism

You won’t meet a cooler guy. Energetic, outgoing, good looking, athletic, and very positive, Keith Graham is a person who everyone loves at The University of Montana. The number of cool things he has done and the number of important people he has met is pretty impressive. What is more impressive though is how nice and respectful he is to everyone. I never took a class with Keith, heck, I never even took a class in the journalism school (if you have read this blog you can figure that out) but that didn’t stop him from reaching out to me and giving me the time of day. The UM is very lucky to have Keith.

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There you have it, the 2012 edition of Brent’s Best of the Zoo. To all the winners of my prestigious list, I regret to inform you that you will not be receiving a framed certificate or an invitation to a special recognition party. Maybe in my 2013 installment I might have something in the budget to more appropriately recognize the people and businesses who top my list. Until then, please contact me if you if you want to call BS on any of my selections or if you would like me to weigh in on any other categories that I did not include.  Congrats to the best of Missoula! Don’t Blink.

* The term “Zoo” is a nickname for Missoula.

Man Vs. Food Northern Quest Style

On Thursday night I made the quite familiar trip from Missoula to Spokane so I could spend the evening with my mom who was celebrating her 55th birthday. My mom chose Northern Quest*, a popular casino resort right on the outskirts of Spokane, to mark her special day. My mom and brother ventured out to Quest in the late afternoon to start their gambling odyssey. By the time I arrived in town and my dad and I made it out to the resort, it was dinner time.

We decided to eat at The Q, a sports bar restaurant inside Northern Quest. The restaurant’s menu is very diverse with many tempting choices, but this particular time my brother and I knew exactly what we were going to order the minute we walked into The Q’s entrance. While waiting in line to get a table, we glanced at the board that contained the day’s specials and saw that Thursday featured “The Big Dog” for $9. Now I love hot dogs but I usually don’t order them as my entrée at restaurants. I usually wait to throw them back at ball games and outdoor BBQs. But on this night, a voice just seemed to whisper in my ear that I needed to go with the hot dog. Obviously, my brother had the same voice speaking in his ear as well. Our waitress took our order: My dad asked for the reuben sandwich, my mom got a burrito, and my brother and I said we both wanted The Big Dog. Our waitress asked us if we wanted to add chili and cheese to the dog for $3 more. She really didn’t need to twist our arms, we both said YES.

My brother and I had absolutely no idea what we were in for. Of course we both took note of the name of the item as well as the description on the menu that said the dog was 22 inches long but what we were about to have put in front of us dramatically exceeded our expectations.

The four of us were really enjoying ourselves. Sipping on our drinks and munching on a soft pretzel appetizer while watching the Olympics in the busy bar, we didn’t even see the waitress coming up behind our table with our food. By the time she was a couple feet from us she got our attention and my eyes widened and my jaw dropped.

The waitress immediately caught the look of disbelief on my face as she lightly laughed and waited for my brother and I to clear the table of everything so there would be adequate room to place our dinners in front of us. In two greatly elongated trays laid two gigantic hot dogs fit to feed a small army. Smothered in chili and cheese and with TWO big mounds of fries on both ends of the tray, I almost had a heart attack on the spot. Now I am not saying The Q’s menu purposely underestimated the size of these dogs but let’s just say they looked much bigger than 22 inches. Take a look at the picture and decide for yourself.

This is me with The Big Dog.

It took two minutes just for my brother and I to let the realization of what sat in front of us sink in. Then came the feeling of a little bit of embarrassment. People at the surrounding tables were glancing over at what sat in front of us. I felt like a pig. But eventually my hunger overpowered the shock and embarrassment and after eating some of the fries, I picked up my fork and the knife that came with the dog and dug in. As an avid watcher of “Man Vs. Food” I genuinely felt like I was on the show itself. Intrigued by food challenges that restaurants across the nation offer for brave customers, I have never participated in one up to this point. Although the Big Dog is not billed as an official food challenge at The Q, I felt like that was exactly what it was. It seemed to me like the only way someone was going to finish that thing was if he/she had an abnormally huge appetite, there was some type of incentive involved for finishing it, and the ambitious eater had a small cheering section.

An up close picture of The Big Dog.

I started eating the dog with the best of intentions and with a pretty high level of hunger. Eating a bag of chips for lunch, traveling, and then sitting down for a late dinner had me in an eating mood. Conversely, taking away from a better performance was the pretzel appetizer my family shared along with the 25 ounce beer I had just about completely downed. All things considered, I put my best eating effort forward. However, even with my mom and dad cutting off a bite here and there for themselves, I didn’t even finish half of The Big Dog. In fact, I didn’t even manage to finish off one of the mounds of fries. My brother did just a tad better than me. My respect for people who conquer eating challenges skyrocketed.

Another angle of The Big Dog

Our waitress brought out boxes for us and we somehow managed to fit our leftovers into them. As we piled the remains into the styrofoam containers, she remarked that people usually order The Big Dog to split…yep, seems about right. Of course the minute our Big Dogs came out to our table we were taking pictures and posting to social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all got a taste (no pun intended) of what Glen and I were eating for dinner. A few of my favorite comments: “Does that come with a shot of pepto?” – “How many animals were killed to prepare that meal?” – “Did you order that for your whole family?” – “Is that for real?” – “Looks like you will have leftovers for a week.”

In the end, this is how I did

Just a couple more notes: Although I didn’t have leftovers for a whole week, I did have a couple more meals with The Big Dog after Thursday night. When it is not on special, the Big Dog is $12.95. If you ask me, just at regular price that is quite the bargain! Again, the amount of food is just outrageous. At its Thursday special price of $9, I don’t know if there is a better food deal in the state of Washington. Just the amount of fries alone is sufficient enough for a meal. Speaking of fries, you get the choice of regular fries, garlic fries, or waffle fries. I got garlic fries and my brother got waffle fries. Because it was my mom’s birthday she got free dessert which was a big piece of ice cream pie. Like good sons, Glen and I helped her eat it, even though our bellies ached.

Here I am the next day with my leftovers.

Ordering The Big Dogs added to the memorable evening of celebrating my mom’s special day. Surely we will always look back on her 55th birthday as the time we ate ourselves silly and ordered something we were totally unprepared to eat. I hope people who read this post and who venture out to Northern Quest in the future will order The Big Dog and try their luck at conquering a real beast. If you do, make sure you take pictures and send me the end result. On Thursday night at Northern Quest I went toe-to-toe with food and in my inaugural battle, food won. Don’t Blink.

* Other Northern Quest related blog posts I have written:

Winning a Social Media Contest

Meeting Toby Keith

Reba Mcentire Live in Concert

The Sideshow Freaks of Vegas

In third grade, my parents took the three of us kids to Disneyland. My mom and dad still look back on it fondly and call it the best family vacation we ever took. The five of us gobbled up all Disneyland had to offer as we went on all the rides, watched the parade, and ate Mickey Mouse ice creams. We also did all the other non-Disney stuff that you got to such as SeaWorld, Hollywood Studios, and Medieval Times. My parents definitely spoiled us and I can’t thank them enough because over fifteen years later, I still have vivid memories of that trip. But as it always happens on vacation, it seems like one memory or theme always seems to stand out the most.

When it comes to our Disneyland trip in 1996, what always sticks out to me were the Disney characters roaming throughout the park. My parents bought us those little autograph books that you bring up to each one and have them sign so I got a lot of exposure with the costumed cast. My mom and dad also went the extra mile and bought tickets for us to have breakfast with the whole Disney crew. Talk about a cool experience! Eating Mickey Mouse shaped waffles while sitting next to Goofy and Donald Duck was pretty neat. I held onto that autograph book for a long time and the magical experience of meeting the characters who I had only previously encountered in movies, books, and television stuck with me.

I feel that my Disneyland experience combined with the little known fact that I actually manage a collegiate mascot predisposed me to a bit of a love for people in costumes (not in a sick way). So I guess it is no surprise that I get a kick out of the wide variety of costumed folks who line the tourist streets of Las Vegas.

You never know what you will find on the streets of Vegas.

Over the past few years, the presence of characters on the Strip of Las Vegas and in the downtown Freemont area has skyrocketed. You can’t walk ten yards without encountering some dude in a cheesy batman costume posing for the masses who are walking by. Incredibly enough, these “entertainers” almost outnumber the small army of men passing out adult entertainment cards. It has become quite the industry.

You will always find some cute angels.

In Vegas, the number and mixture of characters is immense. You got superheroes, horror villains, Elvis, Santa Claus, cartoon characters, Playboy bunnies, show girls, Santa Claus, Michael Jackson, pirates, and, oh yes, my personal favorite… Disney characters. To put it mildly, with the eclectic combination of mythical figures, dead singers, and animated icons, it is one big freak show. But a good freak show, right? Well, according to a lot of people who frequent Las Vegas, the answer is NO.

No joke, you will run into horror villains…I unfortunately had an encounter with Freddy Krueger.

There is a difference between the characters you run into in Disneyland and the characters you run into in Las Vegas. In Disneyland, the characters are working for Disney to provide an awesome experience for the millions of families that visit each year. They follow protocol and rules. They also go through a background check. In Vegas, the characters are much less innocent. They are in costume for solely one purpose: To make tips! They don’t answer to the Vegas tourist bureau, they answer to themselves. These “performers” (I use the term very loosely) will do anything to draw your attention, make you take a picture with them, and then make sure that you give them a tip. They take up space on already congested sidewalks. They don’t care that their costumes are dirty or that they look like they were bought at Goodwill. They take breaks by simply taking off their mask/head/hat/whatever, plopping down on the sidewalk, and smoking a cigarette. They do what they want.

I think a lot of people could make a better Winnie.

But as I made sure to preface, that is the opinion of the majority of Vegas tourists and I am proud to report that I am not part of the majority. My Disneyland experience made me eternally appreciate these costumed disciples, no matter how disgusting or pathetic their costume might be.

Characters you thought would never hang out together do so in Vegas.

I would say that I almost spend as much money taking pictures with these character rejects as I do on gambling. I can’t resist! As someone who loves pictures and who loves someone in costume, I have a tough time simply walking by any Spiderman or Winnie the Pooh on the Strip. I irritate the hell out of my brother when he travels to Sin City with me. This past December I took pictures with no less than twenty Vegas street superstars and Tebowed with just about each one. Even by my standards, it was pretty ridiculous. I try to make it a point to take a picture with the people in the most disgraceful, ratty costumes. I think it is just funny that they are confident enough to stand out in front of thousands of people and expect to be handed tips for the lousy condition they are in…so I humor them.

Tebowing with the best of them.

I must give credit where credit is due however. There are the few characters out there who play the part well and put genuine effort into their craft. You will see Michael Jacksons covered in gold paint who stay completely still until someone walks too close. You will see an Elvis here or there who can actually sing. You might encounter a convincing Jack Sparrow. But honestly, these people are few and far between. Most of them get by with the bare minimum while expecting riches. When I go take a picture with one of these sideshows, I make sure to give them their tip as I am walking up to them just to avoid the awkward and rude “We except tips” that they will inevitably whisper into my ear as the picture is being taken. Just the way Vegas works.

It is a must to get a picture with Vegas Showgirls.

Despite how bush league many of these people are, I can’t turn my back on them. My long ago Disneyland experience won’t let me. I also find them in a weird way just part of the Vegas charm. For the many people out there who detest these hustlers, I give you this advice: Go ahead and keep your distance and refrain from eye contact…BUT…please let your guard down just once during your trip and go shoulder to shoulder with one of these costumed characters and get your freaking picture taken! It can be a new Facebook profile picture. Don’t Blink.