Saturday, March 1, 2008

What DO they do with leftover ricin?

I'm not following up on the ricin scare today because Miles and I have an all-day foster-parenting class as part of our process of adopting a foster child. So the kid is already costing us some dough. Hah.

Anyhow, I did have a question in for the Southern Nevada Health District about what exactly becomes of the ricin that the hazmat teams find in cases like the one of the apparent Vegas gun-nut anarchist at our Extended Stay America?

This answer came via e-mail from Dr. Lawrence Sands, the county's top public health officer:

"According to our environmental health division a licensed contractor hired for clean up will take any remaining material to a hazardous waste landfill (not a municipal landfill) for either treatment (e.g. incineration) or long-term storage. Long term storage would involve double-bagging the material and placing it in a 55 gallon drum buried under 2 feet of dirt."

Wow. So, I wonder, where IS this latter-day Yucca Mountain? Do we have one in Vegas? Or does our toxic waste get dumped in somebody else's backyard, just as Nevada opposes when it comes to nuclear waste coming here?

Also, why two feet of dirt? PEOPLE get six!

Bette Midler Hearts Project Runway, "The Chubby One" and "The Chinese Girl"

At the media "Meet and Mingle" with Bette Midler tonight at Caesars Palace, I noted to Bette that it was a shame she'd pulled the "Pope-in-a-sex-club" clip of Michael Kors from "Project Runway" from a video montage segment in "The Showgirl Must Go On." And somehow, that led to a lengthy chat about the only reality show I've ever watched, one that my companion, Amy, podcasts about every Wednesday with her sister, Bay, on special editions of her "Grits To Glitz" podcast.

Turns out, Bette Midler is a HUGE "Runway" fan, although she was a little bit behind because, well, she's been staging a frigging $10 million Vegas show. So there Amy and I were, catching her up on who the finalists were. It was awful funny -- she did hand motions for the hair of each of the three, Jillian, Rami and Christian. She specifically mentioned how she really liked this week's casualty, Chris March (or, as she kindly said, "the Chubby One,"), and seemed turned on by the idea when Amy suggested she hire him for some costumes for the show.

But she was mainly ticked off, she said, that "The Chinese One" was auf'd. That would be VictorYA. "She was the one making the most commercial stuff," Bette said.

Later, Amy and I chatted with Toni Basil, the "Mickey" singer and Bette's longtime choreographer. Basil noted that Bette is a good friend of Michael Kors. And Amy made the suggestion that someone ought to bend the ears of Kors' and "Runway" brass to get them to come to Vegas in Season Five and design an outfit for Bette's show! As Amy noted, the judges are frequently dismissing various designs as "too Vegas." Well, if they can do professional female wrestlers, surely they can go right into the heart of the beast and do a real Vegas challenge. And the cross-promotional potential is ginormous, especially since Kors just opened his first Vegas boutique, at the Palazzo.

And I'll make the vow right here and now: If "Runway" comes to Vegas, I'll find a national media outlet to take a piece on it. If it's the last thing I do. Which, God knows, it could be.

The gauntlet has been thrown.

Oh, and I asked Bette who she thought would win the show. "Oh, I know," she said. Who? I asked. "I'm not gonna tell you!" she cackled.

Bette Media Night, Part I

Miles had to work tonight, so I took Amy as my date tonight to the official media night for Bette Midler's "The Showgirl Must Go On" at Caesars Palace. There were some important changed made to the show since the preview performance I saw and wrote about in USA Today last week.

Amongst those:

* The donkey she rode in on is gone, replaced by a massive Louis Vuitton luggage pile set piece from which she appears behind. It's cute, but the donkey had a certain "whoa" element to it.

* A sequence where she goes all Kathy Griffin and posts a succession of images of young female celebs in all sorts of scandal-sheet trouble is gone. So, sadly, is a variety of video clips that included a recent "Project Runway" clip of Michael Kors and a classic video of Elton John, Cher and Bette all performing together.

* They removed all of that to make time to add in a video explanation of who/what Doris Delago, Bette's classic mermaid character, is. That seems wise.

After the show, we headed over to Rao's for a press reception and "mix and mingle" session with Miss M herself. That's where Amy got her photo snapped with Bette...

...and Toni Basil, the "Mickey" singer and choreographer who is in her 60s, believe it or not.

I abstained from taking my photo with anyone but my date.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Fire! IRS Raids! Hepatitis! Ricin! What's Next?

Are we paying for our sins here lately or what? First it's that Hep C scare, which I covered for the Times in yesterday's newspaper. And now they've found the deadly toxin ricin at an Extended Stay America a mile west of The Strip.

Are locusts and some horsemen far behind?

For the only coverage so far in the mainstream media that includes reaction from the Strip, see my piece up now on NYTimes.Com.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

This week's Weekly column...

February 28, 2008

The Strip Sense: The Return of Tina Walsh
A long, perilous road back to stardom for the Strip veteran

By Steve Friess

My first significant exposure to the Vegas entertainment scene came at opening night of Mamma Mia! at the Mandalay Bay back in the winter of 2003. I knew I had a lot to learn when a spontaneous standing ovation greeted the initial stage appearance of this one particular blond actress, to my utter bafflement. The audience, made up entirely of local media and Vegas insiders, cheered for this woman as though she were the Strip’s equivalent to Sarah Brightman.

I also was not terribly well-schooled in the fine art of ABBA at that point, but I had seen the show in New York a month earlier in advance of a Newsweek item I wrote on whether this Broadway-to-Vegas thing would work. It seemed like a fun, hardly memorable show.

In the hands of this woman who had been regaled, however, it was elevated to an astonishing experience. When she belted out “The Winner Takes It All,” I was smitten. Who, I asked after the show, was that woman?

That, I learned, was the legendary, the delightful Tina Walsh, and my analogy to Sarah Brightman was hardly a stretch. Walsh had one of those uniquely Vegas stories, having come to Nevada as a teenager from Dallas as a showgirl in Jubilee! more than 20 years ago and then having gone on to co-star with Michael Crawford, Tommy Tune and Rick Springfield in the MGM Grand spectacular EFX.

And now, the woman who came to Vegas to get to Broadway had found Broadway had come to her in Vegas. She was the go-to home-grown triple threat, a woman who could sing, dance and act.

What happened next, though, reflects an important unnoticed side of the Broadway tidal wave that crashed ashore here and is now receding. After Mamma Mia! proved itself a hit and other productions announced their Strip plans, the New York-based casting directors largely stopped taking Vegas performers seriously.

Read the rest HERE

My Street Preacher Keepin' Busy

Every New Year's Eve for three years running between 2005-2007, I've encountered this one street preacher from Bellingham, Wash., on the Strip outside Caesars Palace. His name is Robert Ephrata and, yes, he's a carpenter just like you-know-who. I've written about him in the Las Vegas Weekly and in The New York Times, in part because he makes a fascinating point that between the Strip on New Year's Eve and the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena on Jan. 1, it is the largest concentration of people gathering in public in a 24-hour span in the world.

Well, I just got this email. Apparently, he's abandoned the kinder, gentler tone he struck in my NYT piece and is back to the hard-core "you're gonna get zapped!" message in some third-world country in Africa where I find it hard to imagine they have any idea what the magic words "Sodom and Gomorrah" even mean, translated or not.

Check it out. It's really sad on a number of levels.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is Elton John Bored With His Vegas Gig?

I've been unsuccessful thus far at obtaining a video copy or transcript of Elton John's appearance on CNN on Monday night, so when we do finally get our hands on it I'll be interested to see how far off the mark my memory is. ( posted only about 10 minutes of the show and it didn't include this.)

Larry King was asking Elton about his energy level at his age and Elton went on to note that for his 60th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden, he played 3.5 hours and in other concert venues he plays 2.5 hours and loves it. Then he said something like: "Then I'll be at Caesars Palace in Vegas where I do a 90-minute show and half way through I'll be like, 'When is this over?' "

Again, that is a ROUGH paraphrase. It may even have been my imagination. But with his Vegas contract over in 2009, with ticket sales soft for his next three-week swing from mid-March to early April, and with the artist not under direct contract with Colosseum operator AEG Live but with the resort itself, I suspect that there will be no re-up beyond 2009.

One thought as to why Elton would find the Vegas work tedious: There is absolutely no room for spontaneity and innovation. The show is so carefully managed, so technologically regulated and so tied to the Dave LaChappelle stage theatrics that Sir Elton can't decide to, say, swap out "The Bitch Is Back" with "Club At The End Of The Street." (Sorry, I haven't seen "The Red Piano" since its opening and have no idea what's in the show now.) I imagine having to do the exact same thing each and every time down to the half-minute could be a drag for someone as creative as Elton.

Anyone seen the show recently? Did he seem to be sleepwalking through it?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Finally! Alanis Morissette is our guest this week on "The Strip," so come to the chat room at 7 p.m. PT at LVROCKS.COM and listen live while mocking us with your peeps. Plus, as always, news from Vegas, a new trivia question, the poll and the Top Secret Tourist Tip of the Week.

Come on down or be that way and wait for the podcast edition when it posts on Thursday at TheStripPodcast.Com.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

MGM Mirage On Fate of Fountain Coins

It seems the Wynn Las Vegas response that the coins are in some cases not cleanable is somewhat backed up by this response from Alan Feldman, the spokesman for MGM Mirage, who finally came back to me with a comprehensive response to the question asked by podcast listener Naomi in Israel weeks ago about what happens to the coins tossed in Vegas fountains:


Well, as you may have surmised by now, this was not an easy question to answer.

While most of the coins end up with charity, they have to go through a major cleaning process. Some are simply too dirty or damaged to salvage and are destroyed.

TI discards everything they clean out of their Pirate Cove area as the coins are simply too dirty to recover. The same for Circus Circus Adventuredome from the water rides they have.

The Mirage has in the past given the coins from the water feature near the people mover along the Strip to Shriner’s and Red Cross. They did not have an amount; they simply gave away the coins. My contact there said it was difficult to find an agency to take the coins because they had to be cleaned first.

Bellagio gives coins from their front feature to Habitat for Humanity, however our contact at HFH is saying the company that cleans the coins charges them 50%. As I recall a past conversation Bellagio, the Red Cross asked us to stop giving them the coins about a year ago, because the company they were using to process the donations, was going to raise their fee.

In 2007 approximately $22,000 was given to Make-a-Wish of Southern Nevada from the water features at New York New York.

Mandalay Bay and Luxor give theirs back to Voice, our company’s Foundation, where the monies are disbursed to charities throughout southern Nevada under the direction of a board made up entirely of employees. Last year, we deposited more than $33,000 into the Voice account from the fountains at these properties.

I know this isn’t a detailed accounting, but it’s what I was able to pull together in between calls on the fire and economy slipping into recession.

Any thoughts, folks?