Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Johnny Carson and Old Vegas

I love reading about the Las Vegas I remember, a time before megacasinos.

When I saw Henry Bushkin’s book "Johnny Carson," something about the author’s name jogged my memory. Maybe it’s because my parents and I watched “The Tonight Show,” and I remember Carson’s “Bombastic Bushkin” jokes. Maybe it’s because my mom, Barbara Hudson, worked for KVVU TV5 Las Vegas when Johnny Carson bought the television station in 1978, something Bushkin writes about in the book.

Here’s my mom and Johnny Carson at some employee function for the TV station. My mom’s sister, my 94-year-old aunt, still talks about this picture. At the time this Polaroid was taken, which I’m guessing was about 1980, Johnny Carson was incredibly famous and getting a picture taken with him was a Big Deal (remember, this was before camera phones). That picture was such a Big Deal, in fact, that Mom got copies made and sent one back home.  

Mom was the controller for TV5, and I have to wonder if she didn’t spend some time talking to Henry Bushkin. (Mom passed away in 2008, so unfortunately I can’t ask her.) Bushkin, as he relates in his book, was Carson’s attorney/manager/confidant/advisor. To paraphrase his own description, he was just like those guys on “Entourage,” only there was just one of him.

Las Vegas in the 1970s gets an entire chapter in “Johnny Carson,” and it was my favorite chapter (of course, because it’s the time and place of my childhood). Bushkin describes how blasé the locals were about celebrities—and how refreshing that was for the famous:

“The locals left the stars alone, and somehow most of the guests in the casino grasped that they shouldn’t ask for autographs.”

(Which as a complete aside, reminds me of the time I got James Garner’s autograph during his “Rockford Series” days, but that’s another story.)

“Once we were in line at the register at Food King, and the customer in front of us caught a glimpse of Johnny. ‘Oh my God!’ she said. ‘What are you doing here?’

“Johnny shrugged. ‘I needed peanut butter.’”

The Vegas I grew up in was a small place, filled with people who either worked with celebrities, or were well-known themselves. Fritz Becker, conductor for the Mills Brothers, lived across the street from us (we watched his house when he was traveling, which was often). Poker legend Doyle Brunson lived about five blocks away (in his pre-legend days), in a house Jackie Gaughan built, in the then-ritzy neighborhood at the top of Oakey Hill. Many of our neighbors were engineers, stage hands, or musicians. My dad, a bartender, often worked showroom bars and knew scores of both the famous and infamous. (Speaking of infamous, Dad was especially fond of Moe Daliz, as were many long-time Vegas residents).

Bushkin writes quite a bit about Jack Eglash, the influential entertainment director and band director at the Sahara, who lived just a few blocks away from our house. I went to school with his daughter. I had no idea what an important Las Vegan Eglash was—I just knew his daughter had a pogo stick, which I considered a seriously exotic item.

I enjoyed Bushkin’s book, not only because of his descriptions of Vegas, but because Carson was a fascinating person and a ground-breaker. He set the standard for the late-night talk show genre. Bushkin’s account of the 18 years he worked for Carson is an engaging portrait of a television icon during the height of his fame.


Do you remember Johnny Carson -- or Old Vegas?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Why I'm Thankful I Got to Cook Thanksgiving Dinner

How a small flood made me happy to have a kitchen.

Tonight, my family enjoyed ham, potatoes, and some steamed asparagus. That’s a simple meal (the only kind I like to cook), but on Monday, after our hot water heater gave up the ghost and left a pond in our family room as a parting gift (killing the laminate floor in the process), I wasn’t sure Thanksgiving was going to turn out like I had envisioned.

"Think about all the people without hot running water," we said. Then, "Think about all the people without water at all."

That thought made us feel better on Tuesday than it did on Wednesday.

Today, we got hot water back. It still feels like we’re camping inside our house, but I’m OK with that. We can use the kitchen and the dining room, and really, that’s all I was concerned about for today. I just wanted to have Thanksgiving dinner at home—and having hot water makes that so much easier.

This has inspired me to be thankful for many things: 
  • The handyman who showed up today, Thanksgiving Day, to put in the new hot water heater. 
  • My dear friend and neighbor who let me shower at her place before work on Tuesday and Wednesday. (Unspeakably appreciative of that.) 
  • Microwaves (for quickly heating water). 
  • A standard of living that's easy to take for granted. 
  • The yards of cable my son and hubby put together so we could watch TV. (“The Godfather” is looking awesome right now.)

The chaos is set to resume tomorrow, when the rest of the “fixing” begins. Not sure how long this will take, or what it will entail. But for right now, I’ve had my holiday meal and I can wash dishes without heating water in the microwave

Sometimes it really is the little things in life that we're the most thankful for, isn’t it?

Happy Thanksgiving!

How was your holiday?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Summerlin Lunch Spots

I love going out to eat for a late Saturday lunch, when I’m free to linger and enjoy a good meal with a friend and a glass of red wine. Luckily, I live near Summerlin, home to several wonderful restaurants that are perfect for lunch.

Lunch has a lot of good qualities: I don't have to get up early to enjoy it, and it's considerably less expensive than dinner. (And the lighting is better, a big bonus for those of us who take pictures of our food.)

Today my lunch companion, Diane, and I hit Echo & Rig, one of Tivoli Village’s new restaurants. A butcher shop and bar are on the ground floor, and the restaurant is upstairs. The design an attractive industrial-style blend of wood and metal with a great chandelier hanging over the stairwell.

(You walk in through the exceedingly cool butcher shop. Everything looked so wonderful I almost wished I liked to cook.)

Although we had the option of brunch (served until 2 p.m. on Saturday, the host informed us), we elected to go with lunch instead. Diane had the Ultimate BLT, I had the Steakhouse Chop Salad, and we ordered a side of Portobello Fries –all of which we split up and shared (since we’re ladies, this is lunch de regueur).

 For dessert: “Two cappuccino sundaes, please.”

Best Plate: Ultimate BLT. It's no surprise that the apple smoked bacon is so tasty since there's a butcher shop downstairs. And the bread was divine—the sandwich had plenty of sauce, but the bread stayed non-soggy. Chips on the side were also perfectly done with just the right amount of crispiness.

Not my Fave: The Chop Salad. Not much filet there, and several of the pieces were tough. Too much pepperoni.

After lunch, it was time for a stroll around Tivoli (we wound up at The Market, where we decided our next lunch will be at The View Winebar).

I’ve always been a Tivoli Village fan, and it’s exciting to see innovative restaurants moving in, along with a host of fun shops. We browsed through vintage clothes at Annie Creamcheese (Both of us: "Oh my god, if I see something here I used to wear, I'll die") and stopped in at Box (which carries a line of unique spa products in addition to also being an awesome place to get waxed, according to the lovely woman who waited on us). 

Other restaurants at Tivoli:

After graduating from CIA, Chef Sosa worked with Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and went on to have the kind of career you'd expect after such a prestigious start—and then he was cast on two seasons of “Top Chef.”

High: I loved the watermelon salad. Those flavors -- watermelon, goat cheese, and wasabi -- don't sound like they should go together. But they do, wonderfully.

Kinda Annoying: Slightly loud music, not so loud as to warrant a complaint, but loud enough to make conversation mildly difficult.

UPDATE: Poppy Den closed in August 2014.

The acclaimed and award-winning Chef Bradly Odgen’s last restaurant was a Michelin One Star at Caesars Palace. His only restaurant in Las Vegas is now at Tivoli, which says a lot about the culinary ‘hood over there. 

High: Heirloom Tomato Salad with blue cheese--outstanding fresh flavors.

Kinda weird: The seating added to the entry-way.

UPDATE: Hops and Harvest closed, but Made L.V. is in that space now.

Other Summerlin Lunch Spots:

Culinary all-stars Elizabeth Blau and Kim Canteenwalla are behind Honey Salt, one of Summerlin’s most acclaimed restaurants. I liked the farmhouse-ish, modern-crossed-with- vintage décor. And the burger was divine, too.

Due Forni is the place for pizza cooked in Napolitano brick ovens, and their lunch menu is full of well-done, non-pizza dishes, like the Bresaola and the Panino di Pollo (steak salad and chicken sandwich).

My favorite part of Due Forni is the wine since it’s a good place to order the house wine (I like red, so I can’t speak to white). Every glass I’ve gotten so far has been great

What are your favorite Vegas lunch spots?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Life is Beautiful in Downtown Las Vegas

Last Saturday, my son and I spent seven hours at the first day of the inaugural Life is Beautiful Festival, an amazing event that has transformed Downtown Las Vegas permanently.

The murals gracing the walls of so many downtown buildings were only part of LIB's over-sized artwork--which included storage containers stacked on top of each other and painted with the event’s signature heart. (A few girls climbed on them for photo ops before the police showed up and halted any more climbing.) 

Lawn chairs were placed haphazardly on sidewalks and even in the middle of Ogden.

My son and I wandered the streets all day, making two stops at the Culinary Village and one in Food Truck alley (LAVO meatballs, Sin City Hot Dog, KGB Burger). I know that sounds like a lot of food, but I had a teenage boy with me.

We walked through the Art Odyssey, where artists used rooms at the former Town Lodge Motel for individual galleries, and a water feature acted as a centerpiece for the central courtyard.

I pointed out the Fremont Center building to my son and told him how it used to be a Woolworth’s (where I sometimes shopped on my lunch hour when I worked for the police department in their offices at 601 E. Fremont, a building that now houses “Tripe B,” Backstage Bar & Billiards--although I found out later that my memory was off by a block: Woolworth's was at 5th Street.). 

We sat on the new grass in the Secret Garden, watched street performers, and rode the Ferris wheel, which gave us an expansive, bird's-eye view of the eastern portion of the valley (a view I haven’t seen since I worked in City Hall in the BT days--“Before Tony,” as in Hsieh).

Throughout the day, we stopped at stages randomly and always heard music playing in the background. We caught four bands: Alpine, Wallpaper, ZZ Ward, and Imagine Dragons (who closed their performance with Cirque joining them onstage).

It’s been sad for me to watch so much of Las Vegas fall into disrepair, disintegrating in front of my eyes, and to see Downtown get a makeover and a festival of this caliber gives me hope that Downtown may yet blossom into the place I know it can be.

If LIB comes back next year, and I hope they do, I hope they:
  • Come up with a better mobile app
  • Incorporate more shade (especially in Culinary Village)
  • Get a less-confusing entry and exit system
  • Give the Cirque performers an elevated stage (my son called them “Cirque du Can’t-See-Nothing”)
  • Find a venue for the “Learning” speakers where people under 21 can attend   

Bravo, Life is Beautiful! You were beautiful, indeed.

Were you at LIB last weekend?

See more of my pictures on flickr.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Chalk Art: Impermanence Epitomized

Capturing the short life of chalk art

I captured my first set of chalk art pictures at the Summerlin Art Festival while the artists were working on their pieces. The next day, I came back as the festival was breaking, just in time to capture the images before they were completely gone. 

Even though the festival was over, I still found it strange to see people walking over the fading art. One woman stopped right on top of a panel I was photographing. She was dragging something behind her that looked like a small tent.

When the woman stopped, she didn’t notice what she was standing on, or that I was trying to take a picture. “Oh, sorry,” she mumbled when she saw me. Then she set off, dragging her fabric-covered rectangle over the remains of the artwork.

Somehow, that just seemed wrong.

See more chalk art pics on my flickr page.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Festival Season in Las Vegas

It’s Festival Season in Vegas, otherwise known as “October” in other places.

Over the next few weeks, you’ll get the chance to see a lot of scenes like these:

I snapped these pics last weekend at Boulder City’s Art in the Park, the grand-daddy of art festivals in Southern Nevada. 

My son and I spent Sunday afternoon checking out each and every booth. The balance between actual art and only-at-a-festival doodads for sale was just right. And we loved that so many people had their dogs with them.

(Our total damage: one tie-dyed shirt for Dad, one gigantic ceramic mug for Son, and good-smelling house stuff for me).

Feeling festival-like now? This weekend you might want to check out:

And later in the month:

Life is Beautiful (A two-day extravaganza of food, entertainment, and art in Downtown Las Vegas)
Vegas Valley Book Festival (Major event is Oct. 31 - Nov 2)  

Do you have a favorite festival during this time of year?


All pics by Terrisa Meeks

Monday, September 16, 2013

How the Las Vegas Monsoon Season Got Its Name

Ever wonder why the rainy season in the American Southwest goes by the same name as the rainy season in India?

Well, me too. 

When a co-worker recently scoffed at my mention of Monsoon Season (“‘Monsoon Season,’ please. I used to live in Miami.”) I decided to investigate.

Honestly, I always thought it was a creative misuse of the word.

It turns out that the term "monsoon" has more to do with shifts in wind patterns than rain, and that our rainy season is properly named monsoon for a whole host of meteorological reasons.

I stand corrected.

We still can’t compete with hurricanes, but we do get some really pretty thunderheads.

Did you know the origin of the term Monsoon Season?

Photos by Terrisa Meeks

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

One Day in Balboa Park

San Diego, one of my favorite cities, is about an hour’s plane ride from Las Vegas. Once you land in San Diego, the beautiful and historic Balboa Park is only a 15-minute cab ride from the airport.

San Diego is a great place for a day trip. It’s full of fun things to do, and if you’re a museum geek like myself, Balboa Park offers a mouth-watering array of museums in a small area. 

Here’s how my daycation in Balboa Park worked out:

0615: Breeze through McCarran security. No bags, baby!

0900: Taxi drops us off outside the Museum of Man. (“Us” = my son and me.)

0901: Discover that no museums open until 10:00.

0902: Gleefully drag complaining teenager all over Balboa Park to take pictures before museums open and crowds arrive.

0930:     [Outside San Diego Zoo entrance]

Me: "Are you sure you don’t want to go to the zoo?"

Son: "Positive. I want to see museums." 

       [My heart swells with pride.]

1000: Botanical Building. Orchids and ferns. Feels like Hawaii.
1030: Museum of Man. “Would you like two tickets to the Torture Exhibit also?” Why, of course!

1032:     [Inside Italian Torture Exhibit]

Me: Ewwwwww.

Son: Yawn

1100: [Inside Museum of Man] Real Egyptian mummies.

1129: Son: “I’M STARVING.”

1130: Lunch at The Prado!
1215: Museum of Photographic Arts. MOPA’s International Pictures of the Year on display. I am moved to tears.

1315: Point out to son that the Model Railroad Museum is downstairs from MOPA… “Two tickets, please.”

1316: Regret not buying all-day, multi-museum pass.

1330: Can’t stop talking about the amazing attention to detail at the Model Train Museum. Buy tee-shirt for hubby.
1345: Discover Sculpture Garden is under construction.

1350: Have impromptu talk with teenager about First Amendment rights after watching protesters on the Prado.

1400: San Diego Museum of Art. Antiquities. Arnold Newman display. A smattering of Impressionists. Teenager fading quickly.

1505: Drink coffee while listening to saxophone street musician and watching people splash around Bea Evenson Fountain.
1520: Son: “Are we going? Are we going now? Is it this way?”

1530: Taxi to airport.

1730: Teenage son asleep on my shoulder as we fly home. Best part of day.

Have you visited Balboa Park or San Diego?
All photos by Terrisa Meeks

Monday, September 02, 2013

Weekend Adventures In & Around Las Vegas

At the end of July, my family and I had no vacation plans. And no plans to make vacation plans.

Instead, we focused on maximizing our August weekends.

We rode Lee Canyon's scenic skilift ride
Oh yes, there's a story about the ski lift ride.

We checked out the Vegas StrEATS food truck festival in Downtown Las Vegas.
Vegas StrEATS is fun, but why can't we have tables at a food truck festival?

My son and I took a daycation to Balboa Park, the historic, beautiful, museum-filled San Diego park.
California Tower and Alcazar Garden 

We've been off-roading, to the movies, and out to eat (I love restaurants), and my son and I even snuck in an afternoon at the bookstore.

There's only one thing I miss about taking a traditional vacation: room service. If we could work that out, I'd be very happy. 

Have you taken a vacation or a daycation this summer? 
All pictures by Terrisa Meeks. (You can see more of my San Diego, Mt. Charleston, and Vegas StrEATS pictures on my flickr page.)