Friday, January 11, 2008

OJ v Oscar + Obama

OJ is being carted back to Vegas because of a bail violation. Ordinarily I would be all over it. Today, I simply cannot deal with it. I've got too much to do between the election, an interview with Mayor Oscar Goodman today and my coverage of next week's Palazzo opening.

Seriously. I'd rather go cover Obama late today at a union hall and a high school, too. Everyone will have the same OJ story, plus fabrications on TV to fill time. What will be interesting will be to see who peels reporters off the Obama story in favor of O.J.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hillary Eats Guacamole At My Favorite Mexican Restaurant!

It's certainly not a reason to vote for someone for president, but I was delighted that Sen. Hillary Clinton shined the national spotlight for a split-second on Lindo Michoacan, the unusual and muy authentic Mexican restaurant owned by a Mexican family who are real community leaders. The place is so good that after it burned to the ground in 2002 and reopened in 2004, the lines out the door were stunning.

So here are some pix. There's the candidate arriving...

Then she sat down to have a, cough, casual chat with a group of Hispanic locals about the foreclosure crisis. There was something odd but charming about seeing her actually chowing down while she listened to the sob stories.

I'm always amused by the looks of the people I see, like the lady with the cherry cotton candy hair and the cute kids.

This kid was a local Las Vegas 10-year-old who has been covering the campaign for some CNN and Scholastic News youth journalism program.

You ever look around and see someone so familiar that at first you think you know them? That's how I felt when I caught sight of the once (and future?) First Daughter...

Obviously, there was plenty of security...

And some West Wing fans...

But the most remarkable thing was that even as this campaign event was happening, a third of the restaurant was open and serving and this woman was rolling dough for tortillas even as Hillary occupied the rest of the room.

And this is one reason I love this place. This is NOT something you think of when you think of Mexican food, is it? Mmm!

More info about Lindo is here. Tomorrow, I've got to cover Barack Obama at a union hall. Tis the season! Only 8 days until the most important day in Nevada political history, the first-in-the-West presidential caucus.

BREAKING: The Sun Rises On Awesome New Site

Disclosure: I write a column for the Las Vegas Weekly and contribute regularly to Vegas Magazine, both of which are owned by the Las Vegas Sun's parent company, Greenspun Media Group.

You all know how unacceptable I find the Review-Journal's Web site. It's a disaster of epic proportions, with little indication of what editors find important and an offensive lag time on posting breaking news or updating it. It does a terrific disservice to the journalists working there and the fact that I've heard the editors don't "believe" in blogging reporters is especially backward. There's no way to focus on anything in particular, the stories are listed in no particular order and its functionality is modest. This is what the hot mess looked looks like today:

So it is with a terrific amount of glee that I observe the launch about 40 minutes ago of the new Las Vegas Sun site. Here is the debut screenshot:

Beautiful! It's clearly the hard work of a team of both JOURNALISTS and WEB DESIGNERS who figured out comfortable, visually pleasing fonts, logical navigation and an excellent framework for a promised expansion into more multimedia projects, blogs and the like. And I'm especially heartened by this line from the notice about the new site:

Constant updates. You’ll want to bookmark this site and come back several times a day. Sun writers will provide online-only breaking news in blogs ...

Sounds like they "get" it. Does anyone feel they've got to check the R-J site "several times a day"? Why, so you can find out what sort of "breaking news" the Runnin' Rebels have caused with their basketball scores?

Clearly there's more work to be done -- this letter promises that some video will be viewable on iPods but I can't find any podcast RSS feeds, and the heading for MULTIMEDIA is misspelled here. (Sorry, fellas - the site DOES say to point out mistakes!)

But even on this, the site is so much better than the R-J. The Most-Popular functions are, uh, the most popular functions on news sites because people like to know what other people find interesting. But while the Sun has this function on every single page, the R-J does not show theirs on the front page and you have to click on this tiny little "Most Popular" thing on other pages to get to a pop-up that looks like this:

For a long time, I've wondered about the accuracy of the R-J's Most Popular list, too, and what you see here is a case in point. Today's pop-up claims the most popular story of the whole MONTH is a piece from yesterday about Lake Las Vegas properties being sold. There's a major presidential primary in Nevada, the R-J coverage of which has been excellent, and folks around the world must be FLOODING both Vegas papers' sites with new traffic. So the sale of an off-Strip property is the most interesting thing they've got going? Really?

I haven't the time to dig much deeper right now, but on the surface it looks pretty nice. This is the sort of foresight that explains why I conclude in my Las Vegas Weekly column this week that the Greenspuns are my pick for the most powerful Nevadans. It's because more than anyone else, they understand the Internet, and that makes their media operations far more influential, global and powerful than what the other guys are doing. Others have similar civic, financial and political clout, but their media clout is what sets them apart. And the media these days is nothing if not digital.

In any event, congrats are in order. I encourage you all to take a gander and tell me what you find. Oh, and if you click on the screen shots, you can see what my bookmarks are. Yes, that's the Joy of Baking. Ha!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Winning BIG at Casino Brigadoon!

Like the Scottish village in the Broadway musical that appears for one day every century, Station Casinos opened what the R-J's Arnold Knightly dubbed months ago as "Trailer Station," an 8-hour casino on the site of the former Showboat/Castaways about six miles east of the Strip. The point was simply to hang on to the 26-acre plot's unrestricted gaming zoning, for which state law demands there be live gaming on the site for one shift every two years. This is what the splendorous thing looked like from afar:

... and from anear...

...and from inside...

Sixteen multigame video poker/blackjack machines stood along with a group of guys associated with the construction company that furnished the trailer, which is wheelchair accessible and has a portable toilet next door, per law. Station also needed seven permits and voted approval from the City Council and Nevada Gaming Control Board, and two code enforcers from the city stopped in to check off some boxes on some forms.

These were older machines -- no touch-screen, sort of cumbersome navigating through the menus -- and it only took bills, of course. So I figured, why not? (Journalistic ethics, schmethics.) I slipped $1 into the machine, which I did NOT have to jostle away from some little old lady with smoking through her oxygen tank...

...and lo and behold, after three hands of poker and three hands of blackjack, I was a big winner of $2.50! Don't scoff; as of mid-day, that was the biggest payout of the day!

Of course, when I cashed out, it made me get my money from the kindly man working as the casino floor operator.

Now I have some money to buy my NYT tomorrow when my piece on this is buried amid post-New Hampshire Primary coverage! Yay!

Bette Midler Part II on "The Strip" TONIGHT @ 7 pm PT

Join us as always for the live -- and lively! -- chat and hear the second half of our conversation with Bette Midler tonight at 7 pm PT at LVRocks.Com. Or be that way and catch the discussion and a lot more on the podcast, which will be available at TheStripPodcast.Com by midday Thursday! See ya later, alligators!

Monday, January 7, 2008


Station Casinos imploded the former Castaways on Boulder Highway in January 2006. According to the law, they have to have active gaming on a site for eight hours every two years to keep the gaming zoning designation.

That day has come, rather quietly. Station is opening a trailer from 8 am - 4 pm on Tuesday, Jan. 8. It's just a bunch of slots operated by United Coin, which is pocketing the proceeds. They've done pretty much NO publicity.

If you're unaware, the Castaways site is at 2800 E. Fremont Street. Here's a Google map.

Should be a fun little off-beat slice of Vegas history. I'll have pix tomorrow.

Do The VegasTripping Folks Smoke CRACK?

WOW. So I was having a pretty difficult Sunday, having gotten the call that my uncle, struggling with pancreatic cancer in New York for 18 months, finally succumbed and not being able to do anything but focus on the flooding in Fernley, Nev., so I could file this piece for the Times and then fly back to Vegas to see "Love" at 7 pm for a story I'm working on.

Then, in the midst of all that, I start seeing emails and text messages congratulating me and/or asking if I'd noticed that the fine folks at VegasTripping.Com had done this:

And this, too:

That's NUTS. And a great, great honor. You can read about the Person of the Year thing and the Best Blog write-up at those links or check out all the Trippies winners here.

A few other Trippies outcome observations:

* Readers voted The Bellagio both best overall and worst "swanky place." Odd.

* There's a great deal of hate spewed from the Trippies editors at all things Venetian. Worst overall, worst "swanky joint," worst value, worst rooms, worst nightclub (Tao), most overrated, Then, randomly, the Venetian get editors' pick for best room service.

* On the other hand, there's a ton of hate from readers for Circus Circus, from worst grind joint to worse eats to worst carpet.

* The editors are uniformly down on Vegas gambling in general, giving a "they all suck" to table games, slots and casino. I may need to dig deeper on that in the Weekly.

* The Deuce got editors' pick for best place to get laid. But they don't 'splain!!!

* Congrats to Tim & Michelle at Five Hundy for taking the best podcast categories, VegasTodayandTomorrow.Com for reader-voted best site and RateVegas.Com's iPhone edition for editor-selected best site. The reader-selected LeavingLV.Net for best blog was an inspired choice and evidence that, even in this saturated age of Vegas media, there's still room for an innovation to fill a niche.

Congrats and thanks to all!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

As I Predicted...

...Mamma Mia!, the most successful Broadway show ever in Vegas, is not closing this summer. They've extended it to at least January 2009. Which makes perfect sense. When you've got a blockbuster movie version starring Meryl Streep coming out this year, you kinda want to take advantage of that.

Closing it in 2008 was among my four worst ideas in Vegas, per my Weekly column in November. Glad someone's listening. Or something. Now, about that second Hard Rock Cafe on the Strip...

Greetings from the Fernley Super 8!

Sunset over the Spring Mountain range northwest of Vegas, 1/5/07

Such is life that a levee breaks in a small town along I-80 about 40 miles east of Reno and the weekend takes a totally unexpected turn. You may have seen on the news that about 3,500 people were flooded out of 400 homes amid a nasty winter storm up here.

Well, The New York Times asked me to get up here to Fernley, Nev., and dispatched a freelance photographer from Sacramento. Both of us had serious access problems. The Reno airport was shut down because of weather much of the afternoon, so I rented a 4-wheel-drive Ford Escape (with an mp3 jack, natch) and drove the 400 miles north, snapping the pic above along the way.

Our photog got turned away trying to get over the Sierras for hours when I-80 was shut down. Both of us got here after midnight and will be up early Sunday looking for poor displaced souls to talk to for a piece for Monday's paper. It's a rather Herculean effort for a story that, I suspect, will not prove to be of great national importance as 400 homes isn't much, really, and nobody was seriously injured. But, to give you a sense of how silly the presidential campaign has become, both Hillary and Obama issued statements of solidarity with the suffering people of Fernley ahead of our Jan. 19 first-in-the-West caucuses. After that, something tells me they won't care so much about the good Fernleyans. Or, at least one of them sure won't, anyhow.

Meanwhile, I stopped for a potty break in the charming old-Nevada town of Fallon and thought you'd enjoy some pics of it. Fallon has a Naval Air Station but is best known as the scene of the most expensive cancer cluster investigation in U.S. history, which utterly failed to discern what caused several children to come down with leukemia. I covered it for Newsweek and the Boston Globe in 2003.

Don't think I wasn't tempted by the wares at Phat Tatz...

And finally, knowing how much Miles adores the snow, I figured I'd show him a little because, hey, nothing says romance like writing your partner's name in the snow collected on a garbage bin, am I right?