Saturday, August 14, 2010

Wait, Wait Does Hula Hoops!


For the second time in my career, I've achieved a supreme honor: "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me" on NPR used one of my pieces for humor. Given that I cover Vegas, it's sort of stunning that it doesn't happen more often. Certainly, more stories I've handled have hit the national joke circuit before, but it's not that big a buzz when they're stories EVERYONE covers.

In this case, it became clear my AOL News piece on the potential hula hoop ban inspired this week's "Bluff the Listener" segment when Paula Poundstone (!!!) cited the quote Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony gave me: "These aren't little Hula-Hoops. They're big Hula-Hoops." (Fair's fair, though: The Review-Journal's Alan Choate covered it first, leading to my piece. But the use of my quote indicates the NPR show didn't know.) They even went back to Anthony for a version of this comment for radio.

Listen to it by clicking here. It's about six fun minutes long. Go ahead. I'll wait.

It's particularly fun because I'm in New York at my aunt's and we've got NPR on live as we get ready to depart for Fairbanks, Alaska, on some family business. After thousands of bylines in all these major publications over all these years, my aunt's glee over this odd achievement was still a kick.

In case you're wondering what the first time was for me and "Wait Wait," it was in October 2007 when I wrote for USA Today about a new technology to perform full scalp transplants for bald people using the scalps of cadavers.

[Earlier: My blog post on the original story.]

Thursday, August 12, 2010

This week's LVW col: Save Silver State

Here's this week's LVW column. Enjoy. -sf

Where’s Vegas’ sports arena?

There is no intelligent reason for the County Commission to oppose the construction of the Silver State Arena and the financing arrangement its developers have proposed. That, sadly, leaves us with the stupid ones.
The Silver State Arena is the $750 million multipurpose venue proposed for the site of the late, great Wet N Wild, immediately south of the Sahara. The genie’s-lamp-looking thing even fits in with its neighbors, but better still is that it would create 4,100 new construction jobs as well as, according to the developers, an estimated 7,300 permanent positions after it opens. It’s also, right now, the only hope this city has of landing an NBA team.
You might have heard we’re mired in a horrible slump, so the promise for thousands of well-paying union jobs ought to be irresistible. If President Obama were pimping this deal, they’d be using the magic words “shovel ready.”
So what’s the holdup?

Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com

Wynn Gets Lukewarm On Reid

I've got an AOL News piece examining some Angle-Reid news that will post on Friday, but here's a quick preview that also provides more fuller quotes than I'm capable to use in a news story. The topic of my Monday chat with Wynn, by phone as he vacationed in an undisclosed location abroad, turned to Sen. Harry Reid, whom Steve Wynn has spared from his diatribes against the Obama Administration. Well, until now. Check it out:

Friess: I’m curious to know what you think would happen to the state if Sharron Angle beat Harry Reid.

Wynn: I don’t know. I am so confused, Steve, about what’s going on in America. I’m so deeply concerned about the shape that our government has allowed our economy to get into and it precedes this government, it precedes Harry’s role as majority leader. ... [long discussion of problems of debt and entitlements] ... And that means Nevada is at risk not whether it’s Sharron Angle or Harry Reid, but whether our government in Washington can somehow reverse the course it’s been on, the juggernaut of reckless, irresponsible spending and borrowed money without destroying the economic health of the country permanently. ... [more economic discussion] And I don’t blame anybody, I don’t blame Harry, and I don’t know if Sharron Angle’s election of defeat is the issue or our time.

Friess: Are you still supporting Harry Reid?

Wynn: I support Harry Reid. I support Harry Reid in the sense of 'Harry, make it go away, make it stop.' Something’s gotta be done, it can’t go on this way. I don’t know Sharron Angle, but I know Harry and I complained to him over the phone.

Friess: And what did he say when you complained to him over the phone?

Wynn: He said, well, he doesn’t actually respond directly. [long discussion of the health care bill.] You don’t get any response from the Congress through Harry or anybody else to this debate. I think these politicans are trapped on a runaway train that is controlled by the next election cycle. I think none of them know what to do except to say I can’t do anything unless I’m here. And if I don’t do this, I won’t be here, and if I don’t do that I won’t be Senate Majority Leader.

Friess: Does the conversation about the Harry Reid race get difficult for you because while you ideologically oppose a lot of what Harry has done, he is your long-term friend?

Wynn: Yes. In a word, yes. I think that applies to almost everybody in the upper end of the business community in this state. … Am I conflicted by my ideological differences with what the Congress has done and my friendship with Harry? My answer to that quesiton is yes and I’ve expressed frustration over that conflict to my friend Harry over the phone. I've expressed it to our two [Democratic] congresswomen, too. I’m a health care provider. I know what that bill is going to do. They don’t, they do not understand it. And it’s exactly the opposite of what they tried to do. How it happened is the President got them on a track and they all lost control of the process and they produced a piece of shit bill and they were faced with the idea as Americans revolted, they were faced with either giving up and admitting they’d made a terrible mistake or passing something that would have a few talking points to it. And Nancy Pelosi convinced them it would be better to have the talking points for the November election. And Harry did, too.

Not surprisingly, Angle's folks loved this and Reid's folks spun it. I'll post the link to the AOL News piece when it's up.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Exclusive: Wynn Assesses The Cosmo

[Update: VegasTripping.Com analyzed Wynn's remarks -- with illustrations! Check that out.]

Steve Wynn had some good news/bad news for the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas during my wide-ranging conversation with him on Monday that is NOT authorized for use on the podcast. So you'll have to pay attention here and other places where I write as I figure out the newsworthiness of each bit. The Cosmo is expected to open in December.

Cosmo's good news: He liked the rooms.
Cosmo's bad news: He said the check-in/valet area is "dysfunctional."

Here are the relevant exchanges. I'm giving the verbatim because, frankly, his description of what's wrong with the valet and front desk was complicated and I don't have a site map to help work it out. It seemed better just to transcribe it and let the geniuses like David McKee and the fellas at VegasTripping.Com and RateVegas.Com explain what the hell he's saying. I'm just a vessel.

Friess: You toured the Cosmo?

Wynn: I took a quick look at it, I did. The rooms are very nice upstairs, as opposed to the Fontainebleau where they aren’t.

Friess: Ha. That's funny.

Wynn: No, I mean the Fontainebleau model rooms. They weren't nice. [The Cosmopolitan] has a nice room. Now, the property is so constrained by its size that it’s dysfunctional at its entrance, where people come and check in and go nto the garage. I don’t know about kitchens and back of the house and all of that. Are you asking for a technical evaluation of the building?

Friess: I was asking what your first impressions were.

Wynn: My first impression is they have very nice rooms, that the site has created unbelievable problems as far as access and egress for guests checking in and out. If you have some idea what the load on the Sunday check in and checkout is in the hotel, that place can’t work properly. I made a suggestion to the young man who showed me through as to what they should do almost at any cost if they can do it, and that is to somehow break through from Harmon to the street on the other side that goes between Bellagio and them. Right now, you go in on Harmon from the Strip. As you go under into the building right under the garage, you take a 90-degree right-hand turn and you’re headed back toward the Strip. There’s two lanes there. You’re in the bottom of the garage. And you stop the car, there’s about 10 car lengths and you go into the building there to check in, then you go forward four car lengths, and you have to make a 180-degree turn for cabs and people. It can’t work. If they can get through the building to the other side, they might be able to work it. They’ve got a real problem with check-in.

Translation for those of us without the mental capacity to parse out the spatial relations he's describing: If you can get inside, it's lovely. But good luck getting inside.


Monday, August 9, 2010

The Show is UP: Mafia Wars, Vegas Style

On account of my travels next week to NY and Alaska, we're providing a supersized, double episode of The Strip focusing on the two duelling mob attractions coming to Vegas soon. Plus, there's an interview edition of the Tourist Tip, to boot. Click on the date below to listen or right-click to download and listen at your leisure or subscribe via iTunes or Zune.

Aug. 9: Mafia Wars, Vegas Style
...with Meyer Lansky II & Dennis Barrie

Immediately after Mayor Oscar Goodman was elected, he got into political hot water for suggesting the city open a mob museum. And yet in the next 18 months, Vegas will be getting not one but two of them. The Las Vegas Mob Experience is set to open at the Tropicana in December and the Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas is due sometime in 2011. In this supersized episode of The Strip, we’ll hear from prominent proponents of both. First, Steve speaks to Meyer Lansky II, the grandson and namesake of the legendary mob boss who first sent Bugsy Siegel to Las Vegas. Then, later, we have a conversation with Dennis Barrie, the curator for the downtown entry into the mob-artifacts sweepstakes. Barrie created the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. and was at the center of a major controversy in the late 1980s over the display in a n museum of sexually explicit Robert Mappelthorpe photos.

In Banter: Banning hula hoops, some gay-straight observations about topless shows, the Cosmopolitan gains steam, news on the Garth Brooks scalping front and more.

Links to stuff discussed:

The Las Vegas Mob Experience at the Tropicana, opening this year
Mob Museum that opens downtown in 2011
The R-J on the hottest July ever
VegasHappensHere.Com on Steve’s new car
VegasTripping.Com on Cosmopolitan’s new marquee
Cosmo’s CEO John Unwin is the first chief exec in Vegas to Tweet
VegasHappensHere.Com on the city’s effort to bar hula hoops
Yelp’s entry on Shibuya, a letter-writer’s favorite place
Steve’s New York Times piece on the Mob Museum and possible stimulus money
The Cincinnati Enquirer outlined Dennis Barrie’s court drama with the Robert Mapplethorpe photo show
The Mapplethorpe bullwhip-up-the-butt image referenced in the interview [NSFW]
Barrie’s other museums, the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, the International Spy Museum and the Woodstock Museum
Michael Cornthwaite’s Downtown Cocktail Room and The Beat Café as well

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Anti-Hula Hoop Bill Going National

[UPDATE: Fark picked up the AOL piece. Go vote there.]

This. Must. Be. Stopped.

Or so, in a gift to national writers like me, somebody at Las Vegas City Hall believed when he/she injected into a new proposed ordinance that seeks to also segregate unauthorized vendors and entertainers at the Fremont Street Experience the following provision to ban...

* The launching or throwing of projectiles or other objects through the air except in connection with special events and mall entertainment conducted or authorized by the Fremont Street Experience Limited Liability Company;
* The twirling of hoops (such as hula hoops) around the human body or portions thereof, the use of such hoops for recreation or entertainment, except in conncetion with special events and mall entertainment conducted or authorized by the Fremont Street Experience Limited Liability Company;

My AOL News piece went up earlier today and has already been linked to hundreds of times on blogs, Tweets and such.

Lost in the shuffle -- although I spend plenty of time on it in my piece -- is that they also want to shunt lots of other activity into one of two 1,200-square-foot free expression zones. That would mean this guy...

...and these folks...

...would be put in a corner with, presumably, an impersonator of Baby from Dirty Dancing, should there ever be a market for one. The guy on the left, by the by, is an out-of-work security guard most recently of Mermaids, the casino on Fremont that has a lady dripping white goo from her mouth in the video billboard to promote their deep-fried Twinkees. He says he makes $40-$100 a night in tips meandering on the mall taking photos with people and, he admits, "I don't even look like" Elvis.

I did get an interesting email already on this piece from someone named Amy:

I don't know how I found your article on hula hoops but they really are a public safety concern. I am sure LV can come up with something creative like a hula hoop park with wild lights, etc. We need to respect our elders. Not everyone gets around like a hula Hooper. One good smack on the brittle hip bones of a sight challenged, older lady and, that lady's life could change faster than fast by a blast from a hula hoop. LV needs to stay senior citizen friendly.

Now, I do love my elders and I'm very protective of them. Everybody who reads my LVW columns knows that. And a Hula Hoop Park does sound enticing.

But any Mrs. Magoo so fragile that being knocked down by a plastic hoop could lead to crippling injury might want to steer clear of the Fremont Street Experience or any other public place where thousands of unpredictable, mostly drunk people gather. There are lots of other people doing lots of things there that could be similarly dangerous. Like, say, some babe from the Jersey Shore flailing her arms about as she talks, maybe.

While I've not witnessed these Hula Hooping hooligans myself, I'm finding it hard to imagine that you're just standing around minding your own bees wax, perhaps wholesomely watching the Mermaids video chick drooling Twinkee filling, when all of a sudden somebody spontaneously smacks you down with a hoop. Most Hula Hoopers try hard to avoid having the hoop hit anybody or thing because the point of the activity is to get the hoop to continually circle you for as long as possible, not to rob the aged of their mobility. You won't be a very good Hula Hooper if your radius is populated by hip-replacement candidates, right?

Anyhow, this should be a fun one. The ACLU says all these provisions are unconstitutional and would challenge them if the City Council passes in next week, and the ACLU is batting a 1.000 on combatting the many, many efforts the city has tried to restrict activity at FSE over the past 15 years. So odds are pretty high this attempt is mainly good for giggles and won't ever actually be implemented.