What a classic Vegas night! Happy New Year, everyone!
My 18-year-old niece, Courtney, is in from ASU for a few days, so she tagged along with me as I covered my perennial Vegas New Year's Eve feature, the street-preachers-on-the-Strip piece. In years past, I've done versions of this for Las Vegas Weekly, The New York Times, the podcast and this blog, so it stood to reason I'd do it once more for my favorite new client, the AOL news site Sphere.Com. I also was supposed to contribute to AFP's coverage but that was ruined by Claire Nolastname, but we'll get to that shortly.
This go-around, Miles was at the KVBC Mother Ship directing the coverage, so Courtney and I were left to our own devices. We saw Mystere earlier in the day (4:30 p.m. show) in preparation for a big Cirque du Soleil piece I've got planned for later this month, and I was glad I saw it again because I was reminded just how wonderfully the Hershey Bar of Cirque shows holds up. It's classic and beautiful and has one of Cirque's two best scores ever -- Alegria has great music, too -- and was created at a time before the comedy aspects of Cirque shows started to feel forced and contrived.
We made some goodies for Miles and his peeps...
...and brought it by the KVBC ranch after "Mystere" and after dinner at the critically raved Chinese restaurant China Mama. It was a good ride because I hadn't yet seen the restored neon signs on the islands on Las Vegas Boulevard north of downtown and U.S. 95. Check that out:
Then we headed to Panorama Towers, where my father and I have an investment condo, and parked there to walk the Harmon overpass to Vdara, then Bellagio and then out to the Strip. Vdara seemed like an utter ghost town at 10 pm on New Year's Eve. Here's Silk Road's bar:
Our destination was the KVBC set in front of Caesars Palace where Jim Snyder and Sophia Choi were anchoring the sprawling coverage that included folks at Town Square and on Fremont Street. It was nice to have a sane retreat. Here they are on the couch with reporter Dan Ball and doing stand-ups.
Alas, I was on assignment, so Courtney and I made our way north to the lineup of itinerant preachers for whom New Year's is prime time. Between Vegas on New Year's Eve and Pasadena's Rose Bowl Parade on New Year's Day, these are the two largest scheduled public gatherings within a few hours of one another and within a 12-hour period in America.
Some people tried to reason and debate the fire-and-brimstone set, which in this image includes Petar Keseljevic (black jacket, from Oslo, Norway) and Ruben Israel (sandwich board, is proprietor of OfficialStreetPreachers.com).
But it is hard to reason with folks carrying signs like these...
...so most mocked them and took posed like this:
In years past, the preachers have spread out around the Strip but this time they stuck together near the barricades where the cops were. For my Sphere piece, Israel said: "We've been told tonight that if it were not for the police, they would punch us, beat us and stab us. We've been beat up more times than I can remember." Regardless of your beliefs, it's simply shameful they should deal with such abuse.
I turned the camera over to Courtney while I did interviews and she shot something that I rarely see, pictures of me doing my work:
When the clock came close to striking midnight, we raced back to the KVBC pen, shooting some colorful photos along the way:
And finally, Vegas made up for the pathetic fireworks show that ushered in 2009 -- fitting, really, given what a crappy year it was -- with a fantastic display off the top of the Stratosphere, TI, Venetian, Aria, MGM Grand, Planet Hollywood and...
Caesars Palace! Here's some YouTube video of the fireworks I just found:
The amount of fireworks smoke was something I did not recall from years past but it reminded me of the Strip after an implosion, less the hazardous flying gunk:
I also was unfamiliar with the utterly failed people-moving efforts of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department after the fireworks ended. When Miles worked on the Strip in years past, we had a special media parking spot at Caesars that made the getaway easy. This time, I was in a rush to file my Sphere piece as well as some "color" for an Agence France-Presse piece but cell service on the Strip was completely nonexistent. So I tried to get back to my car at Panorama.
We tried walking up the Strip to CityCenter so we could take the Harmon overpass but the cops had barricades up in all sorts of inexplicable places, leading to stampede conditions because nobody could move and folks became increasingly angry and upset. I saw many people fall down, get knocked around and desperately try to climb over barricades to get out. It was actually impossible to walk south from Caesars Palace past Flamingo Road, let alone to Bellagio. Not because there wasn't any room but because there were barricades that penned people in for no apparent reason.
So we leaped a barricade along with everyone else -- I actually didn't have a choice because we were shoved by the crowd until we were pressed up against it -- and went west on Flamingo Road. My hope was to go through Bellagio from the North Entrance, then to Vdara, out to the Harmon overpass and back to Panorama.
Yet the hotel was not allowing non-guests in. I begged the self-proclaimed "head of security" Claire Nolastname -- that's what she said! -- to let me get through, explaining I was not a partier but a working reporter on a tight deadline trying to get to my vehicle to file a story I could not file there because of the cell signal failure. She could not have been more dismissive. I showed her my press badge, even the CityCenter notebook I was using. Rules were rules. Screw me.
Instead, Courtney and I had to walk over I-15 on Flamingo then south on Hotel Rio Drive to Dean Martin to Panorama Towers. It was a circuitous and rather dangerous extra three miles of walking that cost me more than an hour and my AFP gig. My AFP editor, you see, ultimately decided to move the national story on the wire without any Vegas input because he couldn't reach me. Shame, too, because I had a ton of stuff in my notebook from my walk-through the Bellagio earlier, in fact. But beyond the loss of income for me, I also could not have been more furious or dumbfounded. In all my years in Vegas, folks like valet car-parkers and security officers have always had great respect for other people who were trying to do their jobs. But not Claire Nolastname!
It was an ugly ending to an otherwise wonderful, very fun night. And I'd rather not conclude this post on this kind of note or else the terrorists, or at least Claire Nolastname, will have won!
So here's my favorite image from the night gussied up by Courtney on some photo editing site called Picnik.