Saturday, December 25, 2010

AARP essay

AARP Bulletin—no old jokes please—asked me to write an essay about people 50 and older I’ve encountered in the storm drains, weekly motels and trailer parks of Las Vegas. Here it is:

Monday, December 20, 2010

Merry Christmas, Rick!

I met Rick about five years ago, on the bank of a dry wash that snakes behind the Budget Suites on Tropicana Avenue near Wynn Road, an underground flood channel yawning in the distance. Typing on my laptop, I was gathering follow-up notes for Beneath the Neon. Rick, scaling a cinderblock wall, dropped down next to me atop the bank. Startled, I turned toward him. He was wearing a baseball cap turned backward, a T-shirt, faded jeans and dirty sneakers (his standard street attire). His leathered face was framed by a scraggly beard and he was thin and muscular. I was convinced he was going to try to snatch my laptop.

Instead, Rick (aka “Iron”) flashed a disarming smile, sat down next to me and asked what I was working on. I explained that I was a journalist researching a book about the tunnels and was taking follow-up notes on this channel, which I’d previously explored. He told me he’d been on the streets for about four years and was living in the nearby tunnel.

Over the next several years, as I returned to the area to check on people I knew in the tunnels, show members of the media the drains and do outreach with HELP of Southern Nevada, I got to know Rick. He was from Oklahoma, had worked in construction as a glazier and had a beautiful daughter. He moved to Las Vegas to work for a pedicab company, which eventually went under. A drug addiction led him to the streets.

For two years, Rich Penksa, Louis Lacey, Macheo Willis and others at HELP of Southern Nevada visited the tunnels and offered housing and other services to Rick—one of the nicest guys on the streets. He declined, explaining that he “wasn’t ready.” But a few weeks ago, he made his way down to HELP’s Flamingo Road office and is now housed in an apartment in central Vegas.

In a text message this morning, Rick marveled at the fact that he won’t be spending Christmas in the tunnels and, half-jokingly, wondered if he’d miss them. I’m hoping he won’t—and that this will be one of many more he’ll spend housed and clean and safe and warm.

Merry Christmas, Rick! And a happy new year!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The signing, etc.

Thanks to everyone who attended the book signing Saturday at Barnes & Noble. Pretty good turnout. Attendees included journalists Stacy Willis and T.R. Witcher; authors Jarret Keene and P Moss; Heidi Olson and Anthony Curtis from Huntington Press; my good friends Josh Ellis, Chip Mosher, Becky Bosshart and Adrienne Augustus; a graffiti artist who has painted in the drains; a young and interesting photographer (Nick Leonard); and a few folks, Pj Perez and Warren Wucinich, from the Tales from the Boneyard signing down the street.

Speaking of the Tales from the Boneyard signing: If you haven’t visited the new Alternate Reality Comics location, do so soon. Ralph Mathieu, who’s a really cool dude, has put together a sweet store. Also, Tales from the Boneyard is worth buying for the cause (to raise money for the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District’s support of the Vegas Valley Comic Book Festival) and for Keene and Victor Moya’s contribution alone.

For more info on the store, visit For more info on the comic-book anthology, visit

Friday, December 10, 2010


I’ll sign copies of Beneath the Neon and My Week at the Blue Angel tomorrow (Dec. 11) at 3 p.m. at Barnes & Noble (3860 S. Maryland Parkway, 89119). I’ll be there till at least 4. (This is my last signing before Christmas.)

Also, there’s another signing that day just down the street around the same time. From 12-3 p.m., contributors to Tales from the Boneyard will sign copies at the new Alternate Reality Comics (4110 S. Maryland Parkway, # 8, 89119).

Check that one out, too!

Monday, December 6, 2010

My last signing before Christmas

Huntington Press


Huntington Press Author to Sign Copies of New Book at Maryland Parkway Barnes & Noble

Las Vegas—Matthew O’Brien, author of Beneath the Neon, will sign copies of his new title My Week at the Blue Angel: And Other Stories from the Storm Drains, Strip Clubs, and Trailer Parks of Las Vegas on Saturday December 11 from 3-4 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble store located at 3860 South Maryland Parkway in Las Vegas.

My Week at the Blue Angel ($14.95) is a collection of creative-nonfiction stories that chronicle O’Brien’s forays into the underbelly of Las Vegas and his discovery that beauty can be found in the unlikeliest of places. The stories revolve around the real-life characters of Sin City that are incongruous to the valley’s picture-perfect neon image: a convicted murderer on parole, a missing prostitute, a strip club owner who starts his own church and the downtrodden masses living in the storm drains beneath the Strip.

Matthew O’Brien’s first book, Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas ($19.95, Huntington Press), has been reviewed or covered by more than 100 media outlets, including Publishers Weekly, Le Monde, Wired Magazine, The Sunday Times, The Evening News with Katie Couric, and MTV’s The Buried Life.

FOR MORE INFORMATION or to schedule an interview with Matthew O’Brien, please contact:

Heidi Olson-Barwell


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Speaking of different …

Here’s a different perspective on my work, from the Parkersburg (W.Va.) News and Sentinel, my mom’s hometown paper. It’s a refreshing read, I think, in that it focuses more on family and community than a story in a big-city paper would.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

And now for something completely different

A few years ago, I escorted New York City photographer Seth Kushner into the tunnels of Las Vegas, so he could photograph me for an airline magazine that was doing a story about Vegas artists. Recently, Seth got back in touch and interviewed me. He used leftover photos from the storm-drain shoot and snippets from the interview to create this comic, one in a web series he’s doing.