‘Commentary’ Category

It’s not the ride, it’s the wait

December 21st, 2008
The Deuce rolls down Boulder Highway

The Deuce rolls down Boulder Highway

Call it the cheapest tour in town. You can ride Citizen Area Transit (CAT)’s Route 107 from College and Horizon Drives in Henderson straight into the heart of downtown Las Vegas and back for only $2.50.

The route cruises along Boulder Highway and, according to the transit guide, should only take about an hour. Along with nine other passengers, I paid my fare at 11:50 a.m. and took a front row seat on The Deuce, the gold-colored, double-decker bus that was originally used to pack more people on a single bus for Strip routes. It feels empty now, but before arriving at the Downtown Transportation Center (DTC), only a few seats remained unfilled.

I tried talking to people, but Boulder Highway travelers are not as used to seeing a camera around someone’s neck as are folks on the Strip. It fits the setting: Boulder Highway is a 15-mile long strip mall, complete with fast food joints, gas stations, motels, a smattering of casinos and used car lots.

The driver did his best to arrive at the DTC on time, but the rain, people with incorrect change and a couple wheelchairs added 20 minutes to the journey. I wasn’t in a hurry but the complaining murmurs I overheard—mostly about the wheelchairs—indicated some people did have places to go.

I wandered around Fremont Street for an hour, somehow resisting fried Twinkies, 99-cent daiquiris and the lure of a “free pull.”

At the DTC

At the DTC

Maneuvering through the human flotsam clogging up the sidewalks of the DTC caused me to miss the bus. It’s not their fault; not everyone falls through society’s cracks on purpose. I waited 15 minutes for the next bus, then hit the road again, getting a look at the other side of Boulder Highway. It’s the same. The barren lot that most recently was Castaways (and was once the Showboat) is still empty. The new sign marking the border of Las Vegas and Henderson that first beckoned “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” now reads “Drive Carefully Come Back Soon.”

Then hunger hit. I blame the signs proclaiming “Old Las Vegas Prices” at the Longhorn Casino. Try it sometime. You can get a decent—not fantastic, but better than the price suggests—steak dinner for $4.99. I told you, it’s the cheapest tour in town.

I finished my meal, headed out to the nearest stop … and waited. And waited. I must have once again barely missed one bus and had to wait about 20 minutes for the next.

When I got on, there was a woman asking if anyone had a day pass they wouldn’t be using again. The $2.50 pass is good for unlimited rides for 24 hours (replacing the outdated transfer slips). Hers must have been close to expiring. No one spoke up to offer any assistance and she exited the bus with a look of worry on her face.

I exited the bus at Boulder Highway and Lake Mead Parkway. Route 217 stops there and would get me to within a block of my house. It was 4:02 p.m. when I got off the 107. The 217 passed through this stop at 4:00.

The next time it came by was 5 p.m., proving the one major down point about riding the CAT buses anywhere in town: it isn’t the ride that sucks, it’s the wait.

And wait I did, for an hour. I probably could have walked home in the time it took to wait for the next bus, but my day pass was still valid and I intended to use it to its fullest. Plus, it was raining, and while walking in the rain is great some places, Las Vegas isn’t one of them. I arrived home at 5:15 p.m.

I spent two and a half hours on the bus and more than an hour and a half waiting for the bus. No one exposed themselves to me or smelled bad. Sure, a few people talked too loud, but overall, riding the bus is not as bad as many people make it seem.

Then again, waiting for the bus still sucks.

Drinking with the Dems on Election Night in Las Vegas

November 5th, 2008


Avoiding Election Day results in this age of information overload and constant connectivity isn’t an easy task. My plan was this: Avoid polling results until I got to the Nevada Democratic Party Election Night bash at the Rio All-Suites Hotel. I wanted to be surprised, I wanted to get caught up in the moment, I didn’t want to emotionally rise and fall throughout the hours leading up to the eventual declaration and concession.

I did pretty well. At about 5 p.m., an hour after polls closed on the East Coast, a friend started to tell me how many electoral votes were called for Sen. Barack Obama. I shut her up quickly. When I got home, I avoided radio and internet, going straight into the kitchen to make dinner and absorbing no more information beyond a 20-year-old comic book. Before leaving for the Rio, I logged onto Twitter to announce my destination. And that’s when I caught the page full of tweets relaying the news that Ohio had been called for Obama. That could have been the end right there.

Driving in my car on surprisingly quiet streets, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) was being interviewed on NPR. This is a man who helped lead the Civil Rights Movement, who marched right along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was beaten by a white mob in his youth. Listening to him talk brought the first of a number of tears last night to my eyes.

obama_tieI submitted a request for credentials to the party at the Rio’s Pavilion meeting rooms, but ended up not needing any. This celebration was open to the public, and boy, did the public turn out. Say what you will about party politics, but one thing I’ve noticed in attendance at both Obama rallies and this Election Night party is that the Democratic base is the definition of diverse: All colors, ages, creeds, sizes, shapes and abilities were represented in the Brasilia Ballroom. This is what America looks like.

A giant screen projected a live broadcast from MSNBC, while smaller, flat screen monitors scattered throughout the massive ballroom displayed live reports from Fox News, CNN and the like. One section of the room was specifically designated for the hearing, mobility and sight impaired, complete with sign language interpreters and handicap accommodations. Cash bars were well distributed throughout the room, and a decent appetizer buffet set behind the press riser fed a hungry line all night.

There were important local and state races all around, including two U.S. Congressional seats, a number of State Assembly seats and a County Commission opening. But it was obvious why the party was flooded with people – obvious by their T-shirts, buttons, signs, accessories and banners: Last night was all about Barack Obama. Every time the giant screen displayed another winning state called for Obama, the crowd cheered. Actually, the crowd may have just cheered every time someone bought a drink. It was hard to tell. The sheer jubilance in the room was energizing.

But that feeling of anticipation I’d hoped for was all but impossible to attain. I arrived just a little after 7 p.m., and already Obama had 207 votes to Sen. John McCain’s 130 or so. And polls had still not closed on the West Coast. At about 7:30, I remarked to a friend that this thing would be over by 10 p.m. I should have put money on that.

Somewhere about 8:30, a Democratic Party official climbed behind the podium on the stage beneath the giant screen to make an announcement: The room was at capacity – those who were present needed to stay there, and no more folks were being let into the Brasilia Ballroom. Already an overflow room across the hall was being used. And then, as the speaker was talking mundanely about which restrooms for guests to use, it happened.

The room erupted. Screams and shouts and claps and cries and tears and hugs. That could mean only one thing, of course. And sure enough, as I peered through the throng of bodies between me and the nearby television, I saw the numbers on screen: Obama suddenly had somewhere in the neighborhood of 287 votes. The West Coast must have reported. It happened so quickly, so suddenly, it almost didn’t feel real. (more…)

Excuse me, sir, there’s a Tila in my (Tacos &) Tequila!

October 23rd, 2008

Tila Tequila
A match made in naming heaven. (Photos by Erik Kabik | RETNA)

I get invited – and attend – a lot of grand openings, media events and VIP parties. You don’t read about a lot of that stuff here because, well, that would somewhat defy VEGASinsight’s mission to reveal the side of Las Vegas behind the neon. So you don’t need me to tell you about last night’s grand opening of Tacos & Tequila (T&T) at the Luxor. You likely have no interest in reading about Tila Tequila, Criss Angel or Carrot Top posing on a red carpet for photos and not much more.

But then I got to thinking that writing about just the banality of these type of events might make for interesting fodder, and since one of the key elements of this site is “commentary,” well, who am I not to deliver the goods?

T&T is located on the atrium level of the Luxor, separated from the other new-ish makeover attempts in the once-Egyptian-themed resort such as Company American Bistro, CatHouse and LAX. So that means this “rock ‘n’ roll” Mexican-style restaurant is mere steps away from the Luxor’s wedding chapel, people hawking “rides” on magic carpets and the 15-year-old motion ride “In Search of the Obelisk.” Did we mention that not six months ago, a La Salsa was standing where T&T now resides – and not much outside of the décor has changed?

It’s impossible to assess the quality, service or atmosphere of a restaurant at one of these red-carpet events. I can’t tell you anything about T&T’s food, because of the few different plates being passed around at the opening, none of which were friendly to my palate (or diet), and though no one said anything bad about the taquitos and tacos, no one said anything outstanding either.

Coming soon to NBC: \"Douchebag and The Troll\"See, this is what happens at these events: The same group of local guest-listers – a combination of power players, public relations types, publishers, industry execs and lifestyle personalities such as myself, I suppose – get invited, show up, drink a lot of free liquor, eat a few hors d’oeuvres and schmooze it up a bit. Meanwhile, typically B- and C-list celebrities are invited to “attend,” which usually means “show up to pose for a few pictures on the red carpet and then bail.” Last night’s crop included “host” Tila Tequila, Rashida Ali, Thunder from Down Under, Mosaic, Zowie Bowie and the Luxor’s resident stable of entertainers: Carrot Top, the girls of Fantasy and Criss Angel. One has to wonder if those Luxor stage-dwellers have mandatory appearances at these events written into their contracts, because I have yet to attend a Luxor VIP event at which all of them have not appeared. Then again, really, in this city, Carrot Top is allegedly A-list talent. Anywhere else, he’s a half-forgotten joke, at best.

Thankfully, I don’t do red carpets. Here in Las Vegas, they’re not like Los Angeles or New York events, where the real celebrities actually stop and talk to entertainment reporters. Instead, a gaggle of photographers and videographers crowd up to the velvet rope like cattle in a corral, snapping images and rolling footage for whatever wire service, tabloid publication or TV gossip show by which they’re hired. I don’t envy what they do – waiting hours for 10 minutes worth of work, and then in most cases being shunned from entering the party before having to rush home to dump hundreds of photos onto hard drives in order to meet overnight deadlines. I’ve “done” one red carpet, which consisted of standing around for a few hours with other increasingly impatient and cranky radio, TV and print reporters, ultimately leaving before any alleged celebrities showed up. That was it for me.

Mind you, experiences such as these aren’t bad (usually) in the least bit. It’s an investment in good press – the public relations firms know what they’re doing: Invite the right people, get ‘em drunk, give ‘em food, surround them with celebrities, and surely they’ll write and say nice things about the restaurant/nightclub/whatever that is opening. It’s just become such an expectedly absurd process, I kind of figured telling you fine people about that is much more entertaining than simply posting a gallery of photos of the above-listed proto-celebs and adding a snarky little caption.

And maybe we’ll go back to T&T soon and actually tell you about the restaurant.

Death of Rock ‘n’ Roll? Hardly

August 18th, 2008

These hairstyles are headed for a heartbreak.

I came across an interesting post on a local blog mourning the closing of a number of local music venues — many of which closed years ago — and declaring the “once booming music scene of Las Vegas is nearly gone.” Really? Now, would that be the “booming music scene” that gave false hope to bands such as 12 Volt Sex, Professor Punn and Attaboy Skip? Because the music scene that came after the closure of Mr. Davis’ vaunted venues — The Boston, the Huntridge, Sanctuary — has not only spawned arguably Las Vegas’ most commercially successful music groups (The Killers, Panic at the Disco, The Cab), but has also seen the stabilization of centralized, small-scale venues (The Bunkhouse, Beauty Bar, Jillians) while those overpriced casinos continue to reinvest those ticket sales into music venues such as Wasted Space, Revolution Lounge and the forthcoming Rok nightclub.

Vegas Arts in the news: Chihuly debate, Metro Arts Council

August 12th, 2008


The work of glass sculptor Dale Chihuly has become a Las Vegas fixture thanks to his permanent installation in the Bellagio, Fiori di Como. But is it art, or is it mere decoration? That’s the topic of discussion this week over at ArtsÉtoile, sparked by reactions to Chihuly’s current show at San Francisco’s de Young museum. Join in the discussion at ArtsÉtoile. We don’t like to declare what is or is not art, only what is or isn’t pretty. And Fiori di Como sure is pretty.

As seen in the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly last week, Joan Lolmaugh has formed the nonprofit Metro Arts Council to reinforce a strong arts community here in Sin City. MAC is off to a good start, thanks to a $30,000 grant from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to develop a website, experiencelasvegas.com, the prototype of which will be unveiled on Oct. 6.

Wait — $30K to develop just the prototype of a Vegas arts website?! Um, perhaps Rossi Ralenkotter would like to take notice of a certain other Vegas-based website that has been promoting the arts since 2005? Starts with a “V” and rhymes with “Ray Gas Pin Fight?” We could do a lot with $30K … or even $10K … how about just a Bennie?

LICD pwns Las Vegas

August 11th, 2008

The protagonists of Ryan Sohmer’s online comic strip, Least I Could Do, are on vacation in Las Vegas during its current story arc. Aside from spot-on satirical jabs at high hotel fees and drunken pool-goer behavior, Sohmer uses his characters to make not-so-subtle commentary on the rampant waste of water in a desert city for such luxuries as misters:

least i could do

You really need to click on the image above to read the sad-but-true punchline ending of today’s strip.

Déjà vu: Crown & Anchor, part deux

April 22nd, 2008

Crown & Anchor

Hey, did you know there was a second Crown & Anchor British Pub on the west side of town? Neither did we, until we were pulling out of the Lucky parking lot at Spring Mountain Road and Decatur Boulevard after a stop at the Post Office Express inside the grocery store, and spotted the familiar-yet-out-of-place name on a building that, by our count, has housed 4,378,988* different restaurants over the years it’s been there.

We didn’t stop inside, but for some reason, we doubt this imitation holds a candle to the charm of the original location on East Tropicana Avenue. And it also feels like it dilutes the original anyway. Think about it: The Crown & Anchor is an icon of University District life. When someone says “Crown & Anchor,” only one vision comes to mind. The spawning of a second location makes the brand feel like a British-themed PT’s. And Christ, we have enough cookie-cutter neighborhood bars.

*Estimate only.

Farrell, MINK drop by Tao — but does anybody notice?

October 11th, 2007

Turns out Perry Farrell did show up last night to Vinyl Wednesdays at Tao, as did Satellite Party opening act MINK. But based on my unscientific vocal surveying conducted over the last two days, no one cares. I was hard-pressed to find anyone who even knows who Farrell is, and those who did were only superficially familiar with his Jane’s Addiction work, likely only “Been Caught Stealing.”

Maybe it’s a generational thing. Those of us oft-identified as “Generation X” tend to hold Jane’s Addiction and its ringleader Farrell as pioneers of the alternative rock domination of the 1990s. But I guess those under 25 (under 30??) really have no sense of history or care to delve deeper into musical history beyond Fall Out Boy and the Used.

Not that Farrell hanging out at a club is a drawing point for me–I was going to Tao last night to see Danny Roberts’ art and to meet with one of my friends. And the Lollapalooza founder arrived with little fanfare (despite the promoters trying to build some sort of hushed din). He walked right past me with a small procession of people and headed (of course) back to a roped-off area in the back of the dining area. I asked one of our company’s photogs to be sure to snap a few pics of Farrell just because it would be cool to have in the next issue of Racket, but I think the best he got was MINK.

I know the announcement of Farrell’s attendance at the party was late coming (I received a call about 3 p.m. yesterday about it), so maybe more promotion would have yielded a bigger crowd. But all I know is when the Plain White T’s were in attendance at Vinyl Wednesdays a month or two back, there was a line around the corner to get in and the place was packed.

And have you heard Plain White T’s? Ugh.

Moving on to sexier things: I’ve never really found Alicia Silverstone attractive, but the new PSA she filmed for PETA is kinda hot. I am reconsidering my opinion on the matter. Click here to see why.

Julie Brewer was the soul of Las Vegas — without her, the city feels empty

August 23rd, 2007

Julie Brewer by Geoff Carter
Photo by Geoff Carter

I must have been 16 when I first met Julie Brewer. She was the coolest chick in the world, as far as I was concerned. With her long, dark tresses flowing behind her, she brought such an energy and joy to the garden cafe she’d created behind the soon-to-be-defunct Vintage Madness, which we would all come to know as Enigma.

As much as we supported Julie and Enigma, she supported us. Her mere existence injected this city with a tangible force whose effects are still being felt today.

When Enigma closed — after expanding to three buildings with the help of Lenadams Dorris — it didn’t matter how long the time between our meetings or chance run-ins; Julie was still there, arms open.

More than a few years ago, I started work on a book about the Vegas underground scene. Julie and I met to discuss it. She loved the idea. She was more excited about it than was I. Selflessly, thoughtfully and without provocation, Julie bestowed upon me a very special item — a clock suspended within a birdcage (get it?), which used to hang inside Enigma. She remembered how much I loved it. I barely did, as those days were hazy flashes of memory for me. But she remembered, and she gave me a piece of Enigma. She gave me a piece of herself.

We were supposed to meet again, to talk about her memories, her impressions, her experiences. We both got busy. She was a mother and a wife, and she helped spark what became Las Vegas’ most prominent cultural feature, First Friday. I had my own projects, as well as momentous personal shakeups. Julie and I never met again to talk about “the old days.”

I saw her about once a month, usually at First Friday, and though our words were brief, she always seemed genuinely interested in my life. And proud. She seemed so proud, like a big sister. Like the coolest chick in the world, with her permanent dark glasses and cigarette and disaffected gaze.

And then … I didn’t see her again.

These words aren’t perfect. They aren’t expressing accurately how I feel. For her family. For her friends. For myself, this city, everything. My stomach is in knots. My eyes are…needing to cry, but won’t.

I don’t think I’ve been this shocked by a death in a while. It kind of knocked the wind out of me.

There are so many feelings, conflicting anger and sadness and disbelief kicking around, I’m not sure what to do about it, save for write this unfitting tribute. I just don’t know what else to do.

Judging beauty: Values be damned, bring on the bathing suit contest

August 29th, 2006

Aaron gongs
Aaron Thompson’s thumbs weigh their options in front of the famed gong at Mist inside the Treasure Island for “Gong Karaoke.”

I am not a judge. I did not go to law school, I did not pass the Nevada State bar exam, I do not wear black robes nor wield gavels. However, I have dressed in black capes and wielded hammers, but neither of those have anything to do with casting judgment upon other human beings.

Apparently, no one cares about this. A few years ago, I was called upon to judge a battle of the bands. This kind of makes sense, as I have a history as a proto-musician and have been writing about music since I was old enough to grow a beard. I sat through one night of bad bands, and never returned.

Earlier this month, I was asked to judge karaoke at Mist lounge inside the Treasure Island, and part of a veritable judging squad made up of, for the most part, Las Vegas Weekly staffers and columnists who themselves could not carry a tune to save their lives. But it was all in fun, part of a promotion to drum up new faces at the bar’s monthly “Gong Karaoke” night. Yes, the premise is simple: “The Gong Show” meets karaoke bar.

Sadly, even that turned sour. No, the singers weren’t horrible, for the most part. But one member of our party, young Aaron Thompson, nearly got clobbered by some big, dumb lunkhead who didn’t like being gonged. Um, he was singing Godsmack in an upscale lounge. He needed to be gonged.

Well, after that less-than-enlightening experience – after which we fought over who was not going to gong the next contestant – I thought that maybe judging anything should be left to elected officials with fancy law degrees.

That was until I received a text message asking for my beauty judging skills to be employed at the Beauty Bar’s Drop Dead Gorgeous Beauty Pageant Sunday night. What beauty judging skills, you ask? Oh, I asked myself the same question.

I removed my mismatched light blue T-shirt and replaced it with a nondescript patterned button-down and headed to the Beauty Bar, unshaven and nowhere near beautiful myself, to judge the fourth round of local qualifiers for this multi-location beauty pageant.

What was I doing judging a beauty pageant? My fellow judges were far better-qualified: Tracy Lee, owner of NapkinNights.com, is responsible for putting beautiful people from multiple cities online, and is herself a former fitness model. Brandy Beavers is a vivacious local celebrity, shadow dancer and living pin-up. Frankie the File is the man that keeps the hands and nails of Beauty Bar’s patrons as gorgeous as they can be.

Me? I’m a journalist. We are not known for beauty, hygiene or even owning mirrors. Though I am a music and nightlife specialist and an occasional talking head, I still know about as much about judging a beauty pageant as I do about covering professional sports. Which is nothing, in case no one has been following my illustrious career.

Nevertheless, there I was, sitting on a plastic-coated sofa between Lee and Beavers, watching the five contestants in this round of the pageant strut their stuff down a makeshift runway, clipboard in lap, pen at the ready, passing judgment on women with whom I have no familiarity. They could be active members of charitable organizations, mothers of multiple children, survivors of abusive relationships – I had no idea. All I knew was that I had to rate them based on five criteria using the standard 1-10 numbering system.

Winner Natalie Summerlin poses with judge Brandy Beavers shortly after Summerlin’s victory is announced.And so they came out on the runway, first in skimpy outfits of their choice, then again in bathing suits, just before being asked purposely inane questions that read more like “truth or dare” jabs than personality-diggers. There was biting. There was straddling. There was shimmying. But in the end, there could only be one winner.

I guess the numbers on the white Xeroxed sheet on my clipboard were on the mark, at least in choosing a winner based on appearance, personality, bathing suit, Q&A and crowd reaction. Natalie Summerlin (not her real name), who is apparently the sister of some other hottie, was the leggy, raven-haired winner of this night’s showdown. No. 3 on my list was No. 2 in the final, the wild-haired, mocha-skinned beauty Amelian Kashiro, who is a senior at UNLV studying marketing.

In the end, I didn’t feel good or bad. Just … shallow, I suppose. I despise beauty pageants. They are the summation of everything we have done wrong with our society. Well, no, that’s MySpace. But beauty pageants are second. But I was doing a favor for a friend, and its semi-lowbrow approach made it slightly more palatable than the big TV freak shows – I mean, pageants.

Still, I don’t think I’ll jump at that chance again, unless someone’s career or rep is on the line. Next time you need something judged, please don’t call me. I like to sit back, observe, record and report – it’s what I do. I’m a journalist. What do I know about anything?