Saturday, August 25, 2007

See you soon, Atlanta!

The Decatur Book Festival schedule is posted at www.decaturbookfestival.com. From 1:15-2 p.m. Sept. 2 at the City Hall stage (next to Eddie’s Attic), I’ll participate in a panel discussion with Sin in the Second City author and Atlanta resident Karen Abbott. The discussion, titled Chicago and Las Vegas from Below, will be moderated by Southern playwright and novelist Joshilyn Jackson. I’ll sign copies of my book immediately afterward.

I fly into Atlanta the morning of Aug. 29 and leave the night of Sept. 2. A nice long stay, with lots of free time (and very much needed, though the temperatures in Atlanta are rivaling Las Vegas). I’d like to catch up with everyone. So call me at my parents’ house, on my cell phone or drop by the festival and say hello.

See you soon!

Friday, August 17, 2007

B&N focuses on BTN

Quarterly, Barnes & Noble picks a book to focus on in each sales district. This quarter, which runs into November, the local district picked Beneath the Neon.

What does this mean? I don’t know exactly. But apparently, it means better placement in the four local Barnes & Noble stores and staff recommendations.

It also means if you’re looking for the book, B&N is the place to find it.

Monday, August 13, 2007

New sergeant in town

Independent American Party patriarch Christopher Hansen, dressed in an American flag shirt, working up a sweat talking about the Communist Manifesto and silver coins. Personal injury attorney Richard Harris telling me about his Ticket Busters business. PRmeister and b-baller George McCabe showing up with his little boy Casey.

Yes, my book signing Aug. 11 at Barnes & Noble had some highlights. There were also lowlights.

Some half-blind woman, mistaking me for a B&N employee, asking me where she could find the calendars. Ten-minute stretches of no one dropping by the table. Rereading my book for the millionth time. (Nice pictures, Danny!)

Indeed, four hours may be a bit long for a book signing. Another lesson learned.

Note to authors: If you want to do a book signing, you should contact Community Relations Manager Tracy Shouse at the West Charleston Barnes & Noble. She’s remarkably professional. Promotional posters and newsletters, great table placement and presentation, attentiveness to the author – Tracy does it all.

The slow moments on Saturday weren’t her or the bookstore’s fault.

Finally, congrats to cop-poet Harry Fagel. He showed up Saturday, flashing a new sergeant’s badge.

Now if we can just get him to run for sheriff.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

R-J commentary

The Las Vegas Review-Journal published a commentary I wrote about flood season and life in the storm drains. Here’s the commentary, which is a combination of stuff from Beneath the Neon, the media materials and original writing:

It’s flood season in Las Vegas, the time of year when sidewalks become streams, streets rivers and intersections lakes.

Despite its aridity – only 4.5 inches of rain a year – Las Vegas has a long and ugly history of flooding. In July 1905, two months after the city was founded, a thunderstorm soaked the dirt roads and wooden storefronts and sprawling ranches. A series of floods swamped stores and homes, shorted out phone and power lines and shut down roads and railroads in the summer of 1955. And a July 1975 flood swept hundreds of cars from the parking lot of Caesars Palace, closed down a section of the Strip and claimed at least two lives.

Between 1982 and 2002, at least 19 lives were lost to floods in Las Vegas.

The city’s most destructive modern-day flood occurred in July 1999, when three inches of rain fell in an hour and a half. The Las Vegas and Clark County fire departments performed more than 200 swift-water rescues and the water caused $20 million in property damage. A week after the flood, President Clinton declared the county a disaster area.

An August 2003 flood crippled northwest Vegas, causing millions of dollars of damage.

But when the lightning flashes, the thunder volleys and the rain begins to fall this flood season, I won’t be thinking about street closures and property damage. I’ll be thinking about Lawrence, Eddie, Ernie, Mike, Harold, Gary and the hundreds of other people who live in the storm drains.
Armed with a flashlight, tape recorder and expandable baton for protection, I’ve been exploring the storm drains for more than five years. It all started in the summer of 2002, when I explored a handful of drains with freelance writer Joshua Ellis. It culminated in the summer of 2004, when I surveyed the system in full. It continues today, as I return to explore virgin tunnels and escort friends and journalists through the black maze.

In the system – an intricate web that spans from mountain range to mountain range – I’ve discovered art, architecture and wildlife (crawfish, mosquito fish, stray cats and dogs). I’ve discovered access to the hotel-casinos and airports. And I’ve discovered a bunch of weird miscellaneous items, including a bowling bowl, safe and burned-out car.

But the most surprising thing I’ve discovered in the storm drains are people.

Lawrence, a Vietnam vet with a harelip and lisp, lived in a wet drain south of the Tropicana hotel-casino. Supported by bungee cords and baling wire, his camp was suspended at least 3 feet above a stream of urban runoff. He told me he lived in the drain because he enjoyed his privacy.

A former jockey with ears as big as detention basins, Ernie lived in a 3-feet-in-diameter lateral pipe for 11 years. He slept in the midsection of the pipe and painted it beige, so he could detect black widows (which really give him the creeps). A piece of cardboard served as his mattress, a candle as his reading light. When I met him, he was washing a T-shirt in a stream of runoff.

Bob and Jona (pronounced John-a), married 17 years and hopelessly addicted to heroin, lived in an open-air channel near Tropicana and Eastern avenues in the saddest little home I’d seen in my life. A box spring served as the outside wall and a bedsheet, weighed down by books, as the roof. A piece of cardboard somehow pinned the sheet against the channel wall. Garbage bags bulging with food, clothing, books, toiletries and trash surrounded the hut, like rusted cars around a mobile home.

And there are many others. Teens, baby boomers and senior citizens. Poets, artists and madmen. Hustlers, whores and Vietnam vets. Most addicted to alcohol, drugs or gambling. Some dying of diseases, including cancer and AIDS. All in danger of getting washed away during the next flood.

One of the reasons I explored the storm drains was to draw attention to the plight of the people living in them and get them some help. I hoped Metro would sweep the drains. The city and county would make outreach workers available to the displaced. And they would be placed in hospitals, rehab centers, temporary or permanent housing, whatever’s appropriate.

But, of course, things are never that simple in Las Vegas. Metro barely has the staff to investigate murder cases thoroughly, so sweeping the storm drains isn’t a priority. The city and county don’t have enough outreach workers to handle the aboveground homeless – much less the additional 200 to 300 people in the drains. There’s a shortage of hospital, rehab center and shelter beds. Affordable housing? Maybe five years ago … in Pahrump, Mesquite or Laughlin.

Additionally, politicians and hotel-casino executives don’t seem to want to acknowledge the problem.

So when the lightning flashes, the thunder volleys and the rain begins to fall on Las Vegas, I’m going to have to settle for thinking about the people in the storm drains. And hope that eventually someone else will think about them, too.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Book signing

If you live on the west side – or you need to make a Whole Foods run – drop by the West Charleston Barnes & Noble and say hello. From 12 p.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 11, I’ll be signing copies of Beneath the Neon at the bookstore, which is located at 8915 W. Charleston Blvd. 12 p.m.-4 p.m. seems like a long time. But that’s what they suggested, so someone please bring me a snack. Also, don’t feel obligated to buy my book. Just do what Las Vegans do best: hang out and look pretty. Plus, if you’re one of the five people in the world who hasn’t bought Harry Potter and the Deathly Halitosis, you’ll most certainly want to do that.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Thanks, Yo!

I’ve tried to stay away from acknowledging or posting reviews and stories about Beneath the Neon on this website. It just seems a little gratuitous. And if I acknowledge or post one, I’d feel obligated to acknowledge or post them all. Plus, Huntington Press keeps track of that stuff on its website, www.huntingtonpress.com.

But I want to thank Yolanda Smith, secretary of the Wild Bunch bowling league at Sam’s Town, for recommending the book in the league’s newsletter. In the newsletter, Yolanda called the book a “must read.” She went on to say it would make a “great gift” for any bookworms on your Christmas list – and it’s never too early to start shopping for Christmas.

Also in the newsletter: “Big Bob” bowled a 252 to win the first game of league play the week of July 24. “Shaggy” won game two, with a respectable 249.

I wonder if Josh still has that bowling ball we found in the depths of the Cappadocia Drain. If so, we may have to head out to Sam’s Town and show the Wild Bunch what’s up.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Summer and fall schedule

Here’s a rundown of my summer and fall book schedule. I may be adding a few things here or there, but it’s pretty much set. If any of the dates, times and locations work for you, come by and say hello.

• Book signing from 12 p.m.-4 p.m. Aug. 11 at Barnes & Noble (8915 W. Charleston Blvd.)

• Decatur (Ga.) Book Festival from Aug. 31-Sept. 2 on and around the town square

• Book signing from 1 p.m.-3 p.m. Sept. 15 at Barnes & Noble (567 N. Stephanie St.)

• Book signing from 2 p.m.-4 p.m. Sept. 29 at Sundance Bookstore (in Reno)

• Book signing from 7:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Reading Room (in Mandalay Place)

• Book fair from 1 p.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 27 at the Clark County Library (1401 E. Flamingo Rd.)

• Vegas Valley Book Festival on Nov. 2 and 3 in downtown Las Vegas (tentative)

• Book signing from 1 p.m.- 3 p.m. Nov. 17 at B. Dalton (in the Galleria Mall)