Thursday, June 28, 2007

Trash In The Museum







Now I know that the outdoor Neon Museum – heck, any museum in Las Vegas – is lucky to even exist, much less get special care. But when I was downtown to cover the Neon Museum’s exhibits on the Fremont Street Experience, I was saddened to discover trash dumpsters parked in the middle of the 3rd Street cul-de-sac display. Between “Weddings” and “The Flame” were “The Full Dumpsters.” Yikes.

As I wandered through the deserted Neonopolis, I realized that trash in the museum is the least of downtown’s worries. Despite a never-ending influx of money (over $5 million for the new expansion eastward), some dastardly eminent domain moves, and breaks that treat the area as a park, Downtown remains the Strip’s ugly stepsister.

Despite all that, the Neon Museum and Fremont Street Experience are still worth your time. The vintage signs – which I fondly remember from the days when they hung outside their former establishments – are captivating at any time of day or night. The adult playground of FSE allows visitors to wander from casino to casino, drinks and smokes in hand. Even the hottest days are bearable because the casinos’ air conditioning creates a bubble of cool air around the outside of the buildings.

Aladdin’s Lamp, the Hacienda’s Horse and Rider, and Anderson Dairy’s mascot are among the eleven signs on display. Hopefully, the trash dumpsters aren’t a permanent addition.

You can read more about the Neon Museum in my article in the July issue of Elegant Properties, available free throughout Las Vegas.
Photos, from top to bottom: Trash in the Neon Museum, the Fremont Street Experience, neon signs at the Neonopolis, the deserted Neonopolis.

Paragliders In Alaska



This picture comes from Tony Lang over at Las Vegas' only paragliding club, The Skywalkers. I wrote about the Skywalkers a few months ago, here on my blog and also for both Southern Nevada Life/Fun & Fit and Elegant Properties. What can I say? I think people who jump off high places and fly away are very interesting. And they take some of the coolest pictures around.

Snow In June




If you’re looking for a cool escape from our summer heat, try Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah. At an elevation of over 10,000 feet, you can be assured of cool weather. When I was there the first part of June, it had just snowed.

This massive natural amphitheater is full of fantastical rock formations in colors ranging from yellow to purple. Four scenic overlooks punctuate the rim at various points, and an alpine meadow next to the visitor’s center offers picnicking and camping. Two hiking trails are accessible from the rim; Spectra Point skirts the edge of the rim, and the Alpine Pond trail guides you to a forest pond.

Those who visited Cedar Breaks in years past may be stunned at the number of dead trees. The spruce bark beetle is at epidemic proportions throughout North America, and Utah is no exception. Forest officials point to faulty fire suppression tactics as the major contributor to the explosion of this naturally occurring pest, but global warming has also been implicated. While it’s disheartening to see the dead trees, new growth is clearly doing its best to renew the forest.

For more information on Cedar Breaks, read my article in the July issue of Southern Nevada Life/Fun & Fit.

Red, White, and Bust


Red, White, and Boom, the premier 4th of July event in Las Vegas, has been cancelled this year. Sounds like Clark County is tired of handling this expensive event, and we all know that when it comes to cutting costs, events and attractions targeted at locals are the first to go. Clocks will be installed in casinos before any tourist-centric events are ever cancelled. (Can you imagine New Year’s Eve’s “unofficial” block party ever being cancelled? When I was still with Metro, I was appalled to find that no official permits were drawn for this event… it just kind of happened and it was up to police to figure out how to make it work. I can only hope it’s changed in recent years.) Guess we can move Red, White, and Boom to the same column as Helldorado, Wet ‘N Wild, Scandia, and non-mega resort hotels.

Check the Review Journal’s web page for other 4th of July events:

http://www.reviewjournal.com/entertainment/events/fourthofjuly/
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Photo courtesy of Zoran Nikolic at http://www.sxc.hu/profile/puskar

Officer Methuselah


Earlier this month, Governor Gibbons vetoed legislation that would have affected home owner’s associations. Many of us watching this issue were both relieved and frustrated – HOA’s are an unregulated layer of bureaucracy imposed upon us, and if you have problems with your HOA, well, good luck to you.

Part of the proposed legislation would have given HOA’s the power to raise dues without going before the home owners for a vote. Giving HOA’s any more unchecked power is like handing a lit firecracker to a toddler – explosively dangerous.

While the bills were pending, HOA presidents made a big PR push to declare that most residents living under an HOA are happy. Really? Where are these residents? Everyone I know who lives in an HOA regulated community has had problems with their association. Everyone. From senseless parking regulations to the destruction of community landscaping, HOA’s seem to have a corner on the market for lunacy. The really aggravating part about having problems with your association is that you have no recourse. But wait, you say, don’t we have a state ombudsman to help us with HOA’s? In my experience, this person – yes, a single person – must have had his customer service training from the IRS. Talking to these people is about as helpful as jabbing yourself in the eye with a sharp stick, and almost as painful. You’ll get more help by standing in front of your house and screaming.

Perhaps if HOA’s put as much effort into being responsive as they do in being obtuse, we wouldn’t be paying tax dollars for this fa├žade of a state agency. I once waited six months (yes, months) to get clarification from my HOA about one of their nastygrams. What question was so incredibly difficult that it took six months to answer? The notice we got said, “Grass needs edging,” but our grass was edged. We wrote back. We sent pictures. We called. We pleaded with the management company to please find out what the heck we were doing wrong. We just kept getting notices, each of them more threatening that the last. Finally, the clueless girl at the management company had an answer for us: it was the grass edge next to the decorative rock. (Naturally, it’s next to impossible to speak to a board member or, God forbid, the person who issued the nastygram in the first place.) We asked, “You mean the rock edge that the BUILDER put in without any border? The rock edge that it’s not actually possible to edge because there is no edge? The same rock edge that is uneven and untrimmed at every single house in our community?” Yes, that was it. Instead of simply putting a notice in the newsletter, or actually acknowledging the reality that this oversight on the builder’s part had created an unedgeable area (oh, the horrors!), our association chose to spend who knows how much money and time to send nastygrams to hundreds of homes, doubtless to many just like us who had absolutely no idea why they were getting a notice. My HOA’s latest cause du jour is oil spots in driveways. Hard to imagine, I know, but driveways – where cars are parked – often get oil stains. And oil stains don’t come out of concrete. But don’t bother an HOA with facts!

I could go on with examples of the incompetence, unresponsiveness, and general unregulated idiocy exhibited by HOA’s, but the bottom line is this: Common sense can’t be legislated. That is the critical factor missing from most HOA’s, and no amount of new laws will fix that. Until we find a way to mandate critical thinking skills, HOA’s will continue to operate as an unrestricted branch of government that affects even the tiniest details of our daily life.

Our neighborhood has a community swimming pool, which we use frequently. Last year, a pack of kids vandalized the pool area on a regular basis, destroying pool furniture, breaking glass all over the pool deck, and soaping the Jacuzzi. When my HOA tightened pool rules and issued wrist bands to identify residents, I was glad to see them doing something to stop the problems. They also assured us that the security patrol would actually respond to calls about these kids – good news since until then our rent-a-cops had adopted an “I can’t be bothered with that” attitude whenever anyone called to report these delinquents at work. (Let me just digress and say that we live in a relatively crime-free neighborhood, so I can’t imagine that our security patrol was out busting up a major crime syndicate when people called to report that these teenagers were at it again.)

One evening, about a month ago, my husband and I took our son down to the pool for an after-dinner swim. David and I settled into the Jacuzzi while our nine-year-old splashed in the pool. Then Officer Methuselah showed up.

I can only guess that the official security patrol recommended an increased presence in the pool area, or perhaps Officer Methuselah is just a civic-minded person. I do know that he's a member of the HOA board. We were quietly enjoying the evening when Methuselah and his 80-year-old sidekick hobbled into the pool area. They both glared disapprovingly at us, asked to see our wristbands, asked where we lived, and then Methuselah pointed at my husband’s plastic mug and told him, “You can’t have that here, sir.”

“It’s plastic,” said David.

“Sir, you can’t have alcohol here,” said Officer Methuselah. Okay, I admit it, my 40-ish husband did, in fact, have beer in his mug. We’re just lawless desperados. “If the security guard sees you, you’ll be in trouble,” Methuselah warned. He put one hand on the walkie-talkie he had strapped to his belt – I’m guessing he was getting ready to call in backup.

This was too much for my truck driver hubby. “What’s he going to do, arrest me?” I was surprised he managed to respond without cursing, but despite his evil beer-swilling ways, he does his best to be courteous.

Officer Methuselah was briefly flustered. “He can issue you a citation, sir,” he stiffly answered.

David took a deep breath before responding, “Okay. Thanks for letting me know.”

Now, you must understand that we were not the only ones in the Jacuzzi. Sitting across from us were three 20-ish men, heavily tattooed and pierced, with a veritable forest of empty beer bottles and cans spread out behind them. As Methuselah finished warning David, silence descended as we all waited for him to unload on this group of alcohol guzzling criminals. What scathing words of reprimand did he give these men? Absolutely not one word. Nada. Zippo. Zilch. After chastising David, he promptly turned and left the area. Apparently, he felt he had done his duty. He had bravely stepped up to stop those roving bands of crazed alcoholic middle-aged parents and their splash-happy third graders.

As soon as Methuselah departed, my husband turned to the young men. “You notice he picked the oldest guy to talk to?” We all burst out laughing.

“You seem like regular, normal folks,” said one of the men. “What was that all about?”

Mindful of the fact that Methuselah and his buddy were just outside the gate, I said, “I just want you to know that I only have water in my plastic cup.”

“I just want you to know that we don’t,” they said, and we all cracked up again.

If you know of any laws that will stop Officer Methuselah and all those just like him, please let our legislators know. I’m sure this won’t be the last time the HOA issue arises. As for me, you’ll have to excuse me – a bunch of the neighborhood moms have banded together so we can terrorize the pool area by letting our children run instead of walk, encouraging them to do belly flops, and not making them wait thirty minutes after eating before they swim. Hey, I’ve got an outlaw image to uphold, you know.
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Photo courtesy of Lance Kidwell at http://www.sxc.hu/profile/lckidwell

Monday, June 18, 2007

Golf Clubs At A Gun Fight



The park-filled town of Boulder City loves to host festivals, parades, and parties. When my friend Charlie told us he was entering a cook-off in Boulder City over Memorial Day weekend, we naturally agreed to show up. Who can turn down free ribs?

Who knew that cookout in Boulder City was such a serious affair? Charlie discovered that the barbequers who entered this event were hauling around BBQ rigs so big they needed separate trailers for them. These metal beasts were big enough to cook a whole pig. Several of the entrants were professional caterers – or professional BBQ contest entrants (it was hard to tell which). Charlie discovered what big guns he was up against after he got up at 3:00 a.m. and drove out to Boulder City, only to find that the professional Q-ers, along with their impressive equipment, had camped in the park overnight. (Can we blame him for taking a little bit of malicious enjoyment letting his noisy diesel truck engine idle as he unloaded his humble Weber? ) The pros got up and cooked a delicious breakfast, Charlie said, which they generously invited him to. Unfortunately, when the cooking swung into gear, Charlie and his partner had a Rib Malfunction, and they had to bow out of the competition. We heard the sad story when we showed up to eat the ribs. Chewy meat, they told me. (I also heard grumblings about the use of marinade at other booths.) Everything they gave me to eat was great, but rules are rules (they had to have an entry in each category), and they had no ribs. Charlie's partner summed it all up: "We brought golf clubs to a gun fight." Ouch.

Las Vegas Authors

Las Vegas is both a great place to write about, and a great place to meet other writers. I’m fortunate enough to know local author Cathy Scott, who recently profiled Matt O’Brien’s new book, Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas. Those who know Las Vegas know that one of the heartbreaks of our city is that the brutality and desperation of our street life is so at odds with the decadent consumerism of the casinos. O’Brien, a CityLife editor, first became interested in the tunnels when a murder suspect escaped into the flood culverts and tunnels that criss-cross the city. The suspect eluded police for a week, but the story captivated O’Brien.

Scott herself is an accomplished author with two more books on the way, one on the Hole in the Wall Gang, the infamous gang headed by Anthony Spilotro, and one on the animals rescued during Hurricane Katrina by The Best Friends Society, an animal resucue organization she works for. Check her web site at http://www.cathyscott.com/ to read about her other books.