Sunday, December 7, 2008

NPR tours the tunnels

Adam Burke filed a really cool story about Las Vegas and the storm-drain system underneath the city. Check it out at:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97800190

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thanksgiving in the tunnels: The final chapter

It rained the day before Thanksgiving, and the holiday forecast was bleak, so I was worried our trip into the tunnels was going to be canceled … and I’d be stuck with a year’s supply of canned goods and bottled water. But when I woke Thanksgiving morning, the sidewalk in front of my apartment was dry and the sky was partly cloudy. I geared up, stuffed some final items into the trunk of my car and rendezvoused with my friends Billy, Becky and Denise.

We started at a six-barrel storm drain that burrows under Industrial Road, Interstate 15, Caesars Palace and the Strip and opens at the Imperial Palace. In a side tunnel that runs parallel to I-15, we found a campsite that was home to six or seven people and a cute dog named Blue. We gave out Thanksgiving meals, blankets and winter clothing. Billy, who once lived in the tunnel, brought Blue a can of dog food (filet mignon flavored – the good shit!). We hung out for an hour or so – talking, smoking (no, not the good shit!), watching Blue scurry about in a fashionable headlamp collar – then lugged the few remaining items back to our cars.

Our next stop was a seven-barrel drain that rolls under Arville Street, the Orleans and the Home Depot and opens onto a barren flood plain at the corner of Decatur and Tropicana. I have a history with this drain – eerie shrines, madmen who can see in the dark and even “trolls” – and my stomach was hollow as we ducked into the south tunnel. About a quarter-mile into the tunnel, we stumbled on a man, Charlie, stretched out on a cot, half-asleep. We told him we were giving out food and drinks and he asked, jokingly, for a beer.

“I knew we forgot something,” I said.

We set a Thanksgiving meal on the foot of Charlie’s cot and continued into the darkness. The ceiling dropped. The drain widened. We could see into the parallel tunnels though square cuts in the walls, known as “equalizers.” What’s behind those walls, I wondered? What’s just beyond the range of our flashlights?

Very little, it turned out. We passed a deserted camp, turned around at the flood plain (the sky had darkened) and took the north tunnel back toward the outlet. Arching ceilings black with soot … declarations of love and hate scrawled on the walls … another deserted camp (or was that a collection of debris?).

When we ducked out of the drain, it was raining – and we decided to head home. Good idea. As we climbed in our cars, the sky opened up. It was tough to see beyond the windshield wipers.

We gave Billy, who’s transitioning out of the tunnels and into public housing, some of the remaining food and clothes. A few blankets and short-sleeve shirts are all that remain in my trunk. I’ll drop them off at Goodwill next time I’m in the area.

Thanks to Billy, Becky and Denise for helping prepare the meals, donating items and being good company in those long and lonely corridors. Also, thanks to Aly and Danna for their contributions. Those skinny silhouettes with cigarette-ravaged voices sure seemed to appreciate it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving in the tunnels: Part II

Thanks to everyone who responded to my last post and donated goods. I have plenty of clothes to take into the tunnels, but could use more bottled water, canned goods and blankets. If you can spare any of those things and can meet this week before Thursday, let me know. Thanks.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thanksgiving in the tunnels of Vegas

A few of you have asked how you can help the people living in the underground flood channels of Vegas. Here’s your chance. I’m going into the storm drains on Thanksgiving to catch up with friends and bring them food, water, blankets and clothing. I try to live sparsely – as a writer, I have no choice – and I don’t have a lot of extra stuff. So if you have canned goods, bottled water, blankets, sweatshirts, sweaters, winter jackets, etc., that you can spare, please let me know. (Mostly men’s clothing is needed, but there are a few women living down there, too.)

You can drop the stuff off at my apartment (I live near Paradise and Desert Inn) or meet me at one of my haunts: the Coffee Bean across from UNLV, Rejavanate (Flamingo and Pecos) or Tea Planet at Chinatown. Or I can pick up the stuff at your work or home, if I’m in the area.

If you’re interested, message me or shoot me an e-mail. Thanks.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Great party!

The Las Vegas Art Museum sure knows how to throw a party. The Vegas 360 book-launch party and photo exhibit opening was well-organized, well-attended and fun as hell. The museum’s staff is professional and really took care of the photographer, writers and attendees. It was an all-around cool event.

Thanks to everyone who showed up!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Vegas 360 book-launch party

Early this year, shortly after resigning from CityLife, I wrote an essay for a book featuring panoramic photos of Las Vegas. The book, Vegas 360 (BrightCity Books), will be available at a launch party and photo-exhibit opening Friday at the Las Vegas Art Museum. Vegas 360 features 64 full-color photos by Thomas R. Schiff and essays by UNLV English professor Douglas Unger, CityLife staff writer David Surratt, Review-Journal special projects editor A.D. Hopkins and others. My essay runs with pictures of Caesars Palace and talks about what’s beneath the historic hotel-casino.

The Vegas 360 book-launch party and photo-exhibit opening will be held Friday, Oct. 24, from 5-7 p.m. at the Las Vegas Art Museum (9600 W. Sahara Ave. ). For more info on the event, call 702-360-8000 or visit www.lvam.org. For more info on the book, visit www.brightcitybooks.com (which is under construction and should be up soon).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

‘Food for Thought’ follow-up

As advertised, the “Food for Thought” benefit dinner was a really cool event. A lot of people showed up and I had a smart and inquisitive table. Thanks to Ken, Holly, Tom, Lou Anne, the other Tom, Veronica and my friend Billy (I think I got the names right) for an entertaining evening. Also, the food was outstanding.

The dinner benefited Nevada Humanities, a sponsor of the Vegas Valley Book Festival. This year, the festival will be held from Nov. 6-8 in downtown Las Vegas. For more info, visit www.nevadahumanities.org.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A reminder …

The night of Oct. 12, I’m taking part in a really cool event that will support Nevada Humanities. It’s called “Food for Thought,” and it’s a benefit dinner with an interesting twist: Each table will focus on one topic, with a moderator guiding the conversation. Sample topics include: “The Xs and Os of Success,” moderated by UNLV men’s basketball coach Lon Kruger; “Drought Along the Colorado River,” moderated by Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager Pat Mulroy; and “Politics in the Silver State,” moderated by author and Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith. I’m moderating a discussion titled “Beneath the Neon,” which will focus on who and what lurks in the underground flood channels of Las Vegas.

For more information on the “Food for Thought” benefit dinner, visit www.nevadahumanities.org.

Just joined Facebook

If you’re on MySpace and not a “friend,” please send me a request. My URL is www.myspace.com/beneaththeneon. Also, I just joined Facebook. Search for “Matthew O’Brien” and add me as a friend.

I know. I’m such a social networking whore!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Let’s do dinner!

The night of Oct. 12, I’m taking part in a really cool event that will support Nevada Humanities. It’s called “Food for Thought,” and it’s a benefit dinner with an interesting twist: Each table will focus on one topic, with a moderator guiding the conversation. Sample topics include: “The Xs and Os of Success,” moderated by UNLV men’s basketball coach Lon Kruger; “Drought Along the Colorado River,” moderated by Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager Pat Mulroy; and “Politics in the Silver State,” moderated by author and Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith. I’m moderating a discussion titled “Beneath the Neon,” which will focus on who and what lurks in the underground flood channels of Las Vegas.

Admittedly, it’s not the most appetizing topic. And at $150, the dinner isn’t cheap. But the topic is no less appetizing than Nevada politics (thanks for pointing that out, Becky), the dinner is tax-deductible and it’s for a good cause.

For more information on the “Food for Thought” benefit dinner, visit www.nevadahumanities.org.

Monday, September 22, 2008

In case you were wondering ...

Occasionally, I’m asked if it’s safe and easy to visit the art gallery under Caesars Palace. I recently answered this question for the Las Vegas Advisor, a newsletter put out by Huntington Press (which published Beneath the Neon). I’m posting the answer here, in case anyone is curious.

A: I’m asked this question regularly, but it doesn’t get any easier to answer. If I discourage people from visiting the art gallery under Caesars Palace, I feel like a hypocrite (since I still visit the gallery occasionally). If I encourage them to visit it and something bad happens – they harass the homeless, they get jumped, they drowned in a flood – I’d feel somewhat responsible. It’s kind of a trick question.

So I typically tell people to read Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas. Photographer Danny Mollohan and I explored the storm drains – spider webs, shin-high runoff, blinding darkness – so they don’t have to. Danny’s photos capture the grit, desperation and hidden beauty of the tunnels and I detail who and what is in them and why. It’s the next best thing to exploring the tunnels – and you won’t ruin your shoes.

If people have read the book and are still curious about the tunnels and art gallery, I refer them to Danny’s Flickr.com page (www.flickr.com/photos/dannymollohanphotography). It has more than 50 photos from the tunnels, many of which weren’t in the book. Also, in May, the Las Vegas Sun ran a story on the gallery; its website (www.lasvegassun.com) features pictures and videos, including an amazing panoramic pic.

Still, I realize, this isn’t enough for some people. They’ll want to see the colors come alive in person, hear their boots crunch in the gravel, smell the aerosol fumes, feel the coarse concrete canvas and taste the mildew on their tongue. That, of course, is their choice; flood-control maps are available online and Beneath the Neon doesn’t disguise tunnel locations. Just don’t tell the graffiti crews, cops, maintenance workers and madmen that I sent you.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Quick update

Not a whole lot going on right now. Just continuing to work on the story collection – I’ve finished seven stories and have three to go – and enjoy my free time. Reading, playing some basketball, traveling occasionally. Doing some freelance writing and editing to keep some money coming in.

Hopefully, I’ll have more to report in September.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Now that was cool!

A quick thanks to everyone who was involved in the panel discussion: Paco, Gary, Billy, and Ruckoh. Gary, Billy and Ruckoh, whom I assume don’t do much public speaking, were amazing! I thought they said some really interesting stuff. Also, thanks to Mike Wardle for sharing his space. Finally, thanks to everyone who attended the discussion; there were a lot of familiar faces in the audience: Tia, Laura, Chip, Cathy, Josh, Suzanne, my old CityLife co-workers Mike and Emmily, and many others. It was one of the more memorable events I’ve done in support of the book, right up there with the Decatur Book Festival.

Thanks again!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Panel discussion

If you haven’t checked out the exhibit and you want to, July 17 will be a good day to do it. There will be a panel discussion on life, death and art in the storm drains of Las Vegas and the exhibit will be open to the public after the discussion. It will also be a good day to buy the book. The Contemporary Arts Collective will be selling copies for $17, with part of the proceeds going to the CAC. I’ll be around to sign copies, if anyone wants one signed.

More details below:

As part of the month-long Beneath the Neon: The Exhibition, the Contemporary Arts Collective is hosting a panel discussion about life, death and art in the underground flood channels of Las Vegas.

The discussion will be moderated by local artist Brian Paco Alvarez and panelists will include Matthew O’Brien, author of Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas; “Ruckoh,” a graffiti artist who paints in the tunnels; Gary, a pencil-portrait artist who has lived in the tunnels for several years; and Billy, who moved out recently and is transitioning off the streets.

The panel discussion will start at 6 p.m. July 17 at the Arts Factory. After the discussion, Beneath the Neon: The Exhibition will be open to the public and O’Brien will sign copies of his book. Part of the proceeds from book sales will go to the CAC.

Beneath the Neon: The Exhibition provides locals and tourists the ability to explore the underground flood channels of Vegas through the eyes of Alvarez, who re-created the storm drains in the CAC’s gallery using water elements, gravel, debris and graffiti. The comprehensive exhibit includes artifacts, video with footage from O’Brien’s adventures in the tunnels, and black-and-white photography by Danny Mollohan.

Established in 1989, the Contemporary Arts Collective began as an extension of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Department of Fine Arts, providing a venue for students to share ideas, concepts and to exhibit their work. In 1993, the CAC became a nonprofit organization to further expand the promotion of contemporary art through outstanding exhibitions featuring both local and national artists and educational programs. Located in the heart of the Las Vegas Arts District, the CAC is dedicated to promoting contemporary art through avant-garde exhibitions and educational programs within the local arts community. The CAC is funded in part by the Nevada Arts Council, Nevada Community Foundation, the Arts Factory and benefactors, patrons and CAC members.

The Contemporary Arts Collective is located in the Arts Factory at 101 E. Charleston Blvd., Ste. 101. For membership or additional information, call 702-382-3886 or visit www.lasvegascac.org.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The exhibit

Well. I have to say, I was blown away by the exhibit. Paco went crazy with it. It’s totally insane, in a good way.

Good turnout for the opening reception, too: Tia, Pj, Dahn, Mary Beth, Trinity, Joan, Josh and a bunch of other people. It was a good party.

There are a few other opportunities to check out the exhibit: the pre-First Friday opening (July 3), First Friday (July 4) and the panel discussion and book signing on July 17. Also, the CAC is open from 12 p.m.- 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment (702-382-3886).

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Exhibit reminder

Paco has put a lot of work into Beneath the Neon: The Exhibition and it’s coming along nicely. The walls of the gallery have been bombed by graffiti artists who hang out in the drains, a homeless camp has been assembled, and a side room features artifacts, photos and excerpts from the book. Dude’s not messing around.

I hope you all can make it to the opening reception Thursday night and the panel discussion July 17. Details below:

LAS VEGAS – The city’s underground flood channels are the background for Matthew O’Brien’s adventures in his book, “Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas.” Now, the channels are also the inspiration for the Contemporary Art Collective’s latest exhibition opening Tuesday, June 24—Beneath the Neon: The Exhibition.

The month-long exhibit provides locals and tourists the ability to explore the underground channels of Las Vegas through the eyes of local artist Brian “Paco” Alvarez, who has recreated the storm drains in the CAC’s gallery using water, gravel and graffiti.

The comprehensive exhibit includes artifacts as well as a video with footage from O’Brien’s adventures in the tunnels, and black-and-white photography from Danny Mollohan.
The grand opening reception is at 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 26 and the pre-First Friday reception is at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 3.

At 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 17, O’Brien is scheduled to be on hand for a book signing and panel discussion regarding his experiences in the storm drains. Former drain-dweller Billy will also be on hand for the discussion.

Armed with a flashlight, tape recorder and expandable baton for protection, O’Brien explored the Las Vegas storm drains for more than four years. He discovered bizarre miscellaneous items, art and architecture and—most interestingly—people. His adventures in this uncharted underworld are chronicled in “Beneath the Neon,” which was published by Huntington Press in June 2007.

Established in 1989, the Contemporary Arts Collective began as an extension of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Department of Fine Arts, providing a venue for students to share ideas, concepts and exhibit their work. In 1993, the CAC became a non-profit organization to further expand the promotion of contemporary art through outstanding exhibitions featuring both local and national artists and educational programs. Located in the heart of 18b— the Las Vegas Arts District. Today, the CAC is dedicated to promoting contemporary art through avant-garde exhibitions and educational programs within the Las Vegas arts community. The CAC is funded in part by the Nevada Arts Council, Nevada Community Foundation, The Arts Factory and benefactors, patrons and CAC members. The CAC is located within the Arts Factory at 101 E. Charleston Blvd., Ste. 101. For membership or additional information, call 702-382-3886 or visit www.lasvegascac.org.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Las Vegas Sun

There’s a story about the art gallery under Caesars Palace in today’s Las Vegas Sun. Be sure to check out the panoramic view of the gallery on the website. Very cool!

Here’s the link:

http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2008/may/27/underground-gallery/#/Graffiti/

Friday, May 16, 2008

Beneath the Neon: The Exhibition

Local artist Brian “Paco” Alvarez is putting together an exhibit based on Beneath the Neon. The exhibit – Beneath the Neon: The Exhibition – will open June 24 at the Arts Factory’s Contemporary Art Collective and run through July 24. The opening reception is at 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 26.

More info below:

LAS VEGAS — The city’s underground flood channels are the background for Matthew O’Brien’s adventures in his book, “Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas.” Now, the channels are also the inspiration for the Contemporary Art Collective’s latest exhibition opening Tuesday, June 24—Beneath the Neon: The Exhibition.

The month-long exhibit provides locals and tourists the ability to explore the underground channels of Las Vegas through the eyes of local artist Brian “Paco” Alvarez, who has recreated the storm drains in the CAC’s gallery using water, gravel and graffiti.

The comprehensive exhibit includes artifacts as well as a video with footage from O’Brien’s adventures in the tunnels, and black-and-white photography from Danny Mollohan.

The grand opening reception is at 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 26 and the pre-First Friday reception is at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 3.

At 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 17, O’Brien is scheduled to be on hand for a book signing and panel discussion regarding his experiences in the storm drains. Former drain-dweller William Wieland will also be on hand for the discussion.

Armed with a flashlight, tape recorder and expandable baton for protection, O’Brien explored the Las Vegas storm drains for more than four years. He discovered bizarre miscellaneous items, art and architecture and—most interestingly—people. His adventures in this uncharted underworld are chronicled in “Beneath the Neon,” which was published by Huntington Press in June 2007.

Established in 1989, the Contemporary Arts Collective began as an extension of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Department of Fine Arts, providing a venue for students to share ideas, concepts and exhibit their work. In 1993, the CAC became a non-profit organization to further expand the promotion of contemporary art through outstanding exhibitions featuring both local and national artists and educational programs. Located in the heart of 18b— the Las Vegas Arts District. Today, the CAC is dedicated to promoting contemporary art through avant-garde exhibitions and educational programs within the Las Vegas arts community. The CAC is funded in part by the Nevada Arts Council, Nevada Community Foundation, The Arts Factory and benefactors, patrons and CAC members. The CAC is located within the Arts Factory at 101 E. Charleston Blvd., Ste. 101. For membership or additional information, call 702-382-3886 or visit www.lasvegascac.org.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Update on the second book

I’ve finished six of the nonfiction stories I’m working on for my second book. A theme has materialized: off-the-beaten-path Vegas. The stories are about strippers, prostitutes, social workers, ex-cons and transients and they’re set under Caesars Palace, in prisons, trailer parks, weekly motels and sewage plants.

I’ve written a 10-page proposal that includes a working title, synopsis, outline and bio info and I’ve sent it to a few agents and publishing-company editors. I also sent them a few of the stories.

If you know an agent or editor who may be interested in reading the proposal and some of the stories, please let me know.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A big thanks!

Thanks to everyone who dropped by the Big Read Book Festival on Saturday: Tiffany, Karen, Lisa, Katherine and others. It was slow at times, but I was able to sell a few books and meet some interesting people (as always at local book signings). The most interesting of all may have been Mike Prince, a cowboy poet and writer whom I shared a table with. Prince is author of Toquop, Warrior Station, a young-adult novel set in Nevada, and one hell of a storyteller.

Thanks for keeping me entertained, Mike!

I don't have anymore scheduled public events for a while. I'll let you all know if that changes.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Another book signing

I’m taking part in the Big Read Book Festival, Saturday, April 5, at the Clark County Library (1401 E. Flamingo Road). The festival runs from 11 a.m.- 4 p.m. and features workshops, a used book sale and book signings. I’ll sell and sign copies of Beneath the Neon from 1 p.m.-3 p.m.

For more info on the Big Read Book Festival, visit www.lvccld.org.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Pahrump postmortem

My car made it to Pahrump and back, so I’m considering Saturday’s book signing a rousing success. I also sold a few books and bought two books I’ve been wanting to buy: H. Lee Barnes’ Minimal Damage: Stories of Veterans and Geoff Schumacher’s Howard Hughes: Power, Paranoia & Palace Intrigue. As expected, the townsfolk were friendly. They asked questions about the books, acted interested in the subjects, and mildly criticized Las Vegas, though their disdain for the “Big City” obviously runs deep.

Overall, the drive over the hump to Pahrump and back was well worth it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A reminder

I have a book signing Saturday, March 29, in Pahrump. The signing, part of the “Author Extravaganza,” is from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Pahrump Community Library (701 East St., 89048). If you have – um – business to attend to in Pahrump or you’re just looking for an excuse to road trip, drop by and say “howdy.”

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Miss you, Yo!

Why do prick politicians get 30-inch obits and sweet, honest and caring people only get an inch?

I thought about this recently, while attending a memorial service for Yolanda Smith (aka “Yo” and “Grandma Yo” and “Numero Uno”). Two other thoughts crossed my mind: There’s nothing sadder than a loving person stretched out lifeless in a wooden box; and some people should live forever.

Shortly after my book came out, I got a card from Yolanda. I called to thank her, and we ended up getting together for lunch. Immediately, I was struck by how smart, kind and funny she was. She was a real cool girl.

After our lunch, Yolanda and I kept in touch. She stopped by book signings, brought me cookies and bought books for friends and family. She mailed me cards. I’d call her and ask about her sons, bowling league and health. (She’d been fighting cancer for a few years.)

The last time we talked, Yolanda and I agreed to go to her bowling league together one Monday night at Sam’s Town. We never got the chance. A few days later, her sister called and told me she’d died.

Yolanda Smith’s obit said she was 76 years old and a homemaker. It said she’s survived by her sons, Mike, Gary and Mark. What it didn’t – and couldn’t – say was how many people she touched with her kindness, generosity and class. Too many to mention, I’m sure.

I miss you, Yo! Thanks for everything.

Going to Pahrump for a – um – book signing

According to my datebook, I have a book signing March 29 in Pahrump. So, since I don’t argue with my datebook, I guess I’ll climb into my car Saturday morning, drive over the mountains on Highway 160 and visit The Closest City to Las Vegas in Which Prostitution is Legal. The signing, part of the “Author Extravaganza,” is from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Pahrump Community Library (701 East St., 89048).

If you have – um – business to attend to in Pahrump or you’re just looking for an excuse to road trip, drop by and say “howdy.”

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Cats found a home

Thanks to everyone who e-mailed with suggestions for Billy and his cats. They’ve all found homes. Billy is living in public housing and volunteering at the Las Vegas zoo. The Cat Sanctuary took in three or four of his cats and a local no-kill shelter took in the others.

Activist Linda Lera-Randle El and her crew helped make all this happen. They’ve been amazing.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Cats need a home

We’re trying to help one of the guys I met in the drains, Billy, get into housing. Problem is, he’s taking care of six or seven cats and doesn’t want to abandon them. The three-legged momma cat, a 10-month-old and four or five kittens need a home. If you want a cat or know someone who does, please let me know. Also, if you know of a no-kill shelter or someplace we can take them, let me know. The social workers aren’t sure what to do with the cats.

Thanks.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Quick update

It’s been three weeks since my last day at CityLife, and things are going pretty well. I’ve written an essay for a photo book on Las Vegas (more details later), I’ve finished five stories of a 10-to-12-story collection set in Vegas and I’ve done some freelance writing and editing. I’ve also traveled. (Lake Tahoe is gorgeous this time of year.)

But the coolest thing I’ve done is ride around on my mountain bike. I’ve been riding it (somewhat clumsily) to the gym and coffee shop, and marveling at the simplicity of it. Two sprockets, two pedals, and a chain – da Vinci (if he really did design it) was brilliant! I’ve convinced myself the bike is one of the greatest inventions ever.

Anyway, I should have some news to report in the next two or three weeks. Please check back occasionally.