Monday, July 31, 2017

Steve Fanell photo essay

I’m very excited to play a small role in, perhaps, introducing you to the work of Steve Fanell. You may not agree with what he says or how he says it, but you can’t deny the power of his pictures.

Friday, July 28, 2017

RJ story

Got my name in the paper. Special thanks to John Glionna for the wonderful story and Rachel Aston for the revealing video and pics. I’m honored.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

KNPR interview

Here’s a KNPR interview Paul Vautrinot and I did a week or so ago. It’s an exit interview of sorts with me, and Paul and I discuss the future of Shine a Light.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Special Collections

I found a home for my Beneath the Neon and My Week at the Blue Angel notes and memorabilia: Special Collections at UNLV’s Lied Library. They plan to sort through the boxes—handwritten notes, taped interviews, email correspondence with editors, edited drafts, etc.—and eventually make the contents available to the public. (If you ever want to hear me splashing through a storm drain, babbling to myself in a nervous stutter, you know where to go.)

The best part of the experience was I got to spend some time with two warm and talented longtime Las Vegans, Aaron Mayes and Su Kim Chung. Thanks, Aaron and Su Kim!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Shine a Light follow-up

I’m excited to announce that my Shine a Light community project, which was founded in 2009 to help the people who live in the underground flood channels of Vegas, will be folded into Freedom House’s programming. This will allow Shine a Light to more directly provide housing, counseling and other services to the people in the drains. I will remain involved in the program as much as possible from San Salvador, but Paul Vautrinot, who once lived in the tunnels, will be the point person. 

More details on the collaboration will be available in the days to come. In the meantime, please like Freedom House Sober Living’s Facebook page, visit its website ( and consider donating to it. Thanks!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Shine a Light

Big things are brewing with my community project Shine a Light. Sometimes you have to let go (a little) of the things you love for them to reach their full potential. More on this soon.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Out of the dark

“I left the tunnel because I had breast cancer. I had to stay clean. I wanted to be spick and span. I’m going to see all these doctors and I had to be able to shower, wear proper clothing and have some decency, because I was not a homeless bum. I was a PhD living down in a freakin’ tunnel.” Ande, in the drains from 2008 to ’15

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Monday, June 5, 2017

Going-away present

Yesterday in the tunnels, one of the residents, Steve, gave me a going-away present: a compass. He said he hoped it would come in handy in Central America. #touched

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sunday Assembly follow-up

I was honored to share the stage at the Sunday Assembly with Paul Vautrinot. We had a blast and met some really interesting people—thanks to everyone who came out!—then headed into the tunnels to check on some folks down there. I'm hoping Paul (and others) will help keep Shine a Light going while I'm in Central America. With his experience, knowledge and charisma, I'm confident he could positively impact hundreds of lives in the drains. No pressure, Paul!

Friday, June 2, 2017

How an Author’s Mind Works

My publisher: “We can’t print the second edition of Beneath the Neon until we reduce the stock of the first edition. We need to sell a few more hundred copies.”

My mind: I’ll buy a few hundred copies myself.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Sunday Assembly

If you don’t have anything going on Sunday afternoon, drop by the Sunday Assembly. I will be talking about my experiences in the underground flood channels, and bringing along a special guest: Paul Vautrinot, whose remarkable story I shared in Vegas Seven magazine ( Hope you can join us!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Concert review

A rare concert review by yours truly. Band of Horses. 5/26/17. At the Chelsea (Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas).

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What I’ve learned writing about the homeless in Vegas

“Call the homeless what you will, but don’t call them lazy. (You’re the one using UberEATS and sitting on the couch watching TV.) They’re the toughest, most industrious people I’ve met. Their survival depends on it.”

This is an excerpt from my commentary about what I’ve learned in 20 years of writing about and working with the homeless in Las Vegas. Many of my social-networking friends know a lot about homelessness—more than I ever will—and I’m curious how your experience aligns with mine or doesn’t. Please share your thoughts.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Discovering the drains

I’ve interviewed about 30 former tunnel residents and asked them all, “How’d you discover the drains?” This answer, courtesy of 24-year-old Szmauz, might be the most interesting so far:

“I was giving this other homeless guy hot dogs I’d found in a dumpster and out of the corner of my eye I see this big guy come over and deck me. The hot dogs go flying. I was stunned. It took me a second to realize I just got hit in the face. He starts wailing on me and I fight back. I’m not a small guy, so he took off. I had this meat cleaver on me and I’m chasing him down the street. The dealers that lived in the shitty apartments nearby knew me; I was a good customer of theirs. They were like, ‘Dude, what’s up?’ I said, ‘Get that guy!’ We’re all chasing him and he dipped through a hole in the fence and went down into a wash and into a tunnel. I stopped. I’m like, I’m not going in there. And that’s how I found the tunnel.”

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Neon photo essay just posted the photo essay of people who are helping, in some way, preserve neon in Las Vegas. A lot of folks provided guidance on this essay, not all of whom I was able to acknowledge in the piece. They include Brian Paco Alvarez, Richard Hooker, Lynn Zook, Danielle Marie Kelly, Maggie Mary and Steve Evans. A special shout-out to Rachel Bellinksy, whose photos are simply amazing!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Chain reaction story

I had fun getting this chain going and seeing where it went. Hopefully, it will spread a little positivity and introduce you to a few intriguing Downtowners.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

What's in a name?

If nothing else, my book about the survivors of the Las Vegas storm drains will feature some colorful names. I’ve mentioned “One Shoe Sue” and “Four-Finger Mike.” My latest interview (the 28th total) was with “Merchandise Mike,” a wedding photographer turned “booster” who shoplifted to support his crack habit.

Polish magazine piece

I received a couple of friend requests from people living in Poland and did a little research. Turns out a Polish magazine published a piece related to the tunnels. As far as I can tell, the reporter came to Vegas to try to find the “canals” and talk to people living in them. He finally found one and the folks told him, in their own, unique words, no comment.

The reporter never reached out to me, but surfed my website and/or Facebook page and referenced various posts, including my recent interview in Vegas Seven magazine with Paul/Shaggy. The Polish piece also included a few photos from my Facebook page (without permission).

I’m not saying American journalism is all that—it has its flaws—but sometimes foreign media coverage confounds me.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

El Salvador update

I recently found out more about my job in Central America. It looks like I will be teaching 11th grade English (American lit) and 12th grade AP English (British lit), with the possibility of eventually picking up creative writing. Required works on the American lit syllabus include The Things They Carried, The Awakening and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Works on the Brit lit syllabus include The Importance of Being Earnest, Frankenstein and Pride and Prejudice. I should also be able to choose various other readings to supplement the required ones.

By all indications, this school takes its reading and writing seriously. I do, too. Let’s hope this is a good match.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Dead ends and dumpster divers

I’ve been biking the alleyways of downtown Las Vegas. Here are my observations (along with some really cool pics courtesy of Krystal Ramirez).

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Just so y'all know

Someone just asked me to contribute 500 words, before the end of the month, to his soon-to-be-self-published book. He said he couldn’t pay me and ended his email, “Let me know what you think.” I gladly obliged.


“I’m a professional writer with 20 years of experience. I get paid for my writing. It, in large part, is how I cover my rent, utilities, car payment, car insurance, health insurance and many other expenses, including food.

“You may have heard this analogy before (or perhaps not): Would you go into a doctor’s office, ask him or her to diagnose you, then suggest that he or she do it for free? Of course you wouldn’t. Nor should you ask this of professional writers and artists.



Friday, April 7, 2017

Blue Angel prose poem

I wrote a prose poem about the Blue Angel sculpture coming down. Please don’t take it too seriously. It plays on the word “rehab” and humanizes the sculpture as a woman who may have stayed at the motel herself.

Special thanks to Bill Hughes for the pics, and Shaun Christensen and Jarret Keene for guidance on the piece. Also to Jessie O’Brien for publishing it.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Vegas Seven story

As many of you know, I’ve been interviewing people who used to live in the underground flood channels. My plan is to include snippets of the interviews in a book—an oral account of surviving the Las Vegas storm drains.

Here, in the latest issue of Vegas Seven magazine, is an abbreviated version of one of the interviews. Thanks to Paul Vautrinot for sharing his incredible story!

Monday, February 6, 2017

From Sin City to the Savior

Somewhat to my surprise, my trip to El Salvador turned into a job interview at a prep school. I toured the campus, talked to the director and dean of faculty and met a few teachers and students. Before I left the country they offered me a job teaching 12th grade English. After returning to the States and giving it some thought, I accepted the offer.

There were simply too many positives for me to turn it down: I can save money, learn Spanish (though it’s an English-language school), see more of Central and South America, etc. Also, after nearly 20 years in Vegas, things feel stagnant. I’ve felt, at times, like a poker player who’s sure he has a full house, but everyone else seems to think he’s bluffing. Perhaps I’ve played this hand a little too long.

I won’t leave Las Vegas until late July, which gives me time to tie up loose ends, work on a few local projects (which you will hear more about), visit one or two state and national parks and get coffee or a drink with friends. Also, I hope to maintain my relationship with Vegas and return once or twice a year.

I’ll post more thoughts on this dramatic change—from Sin City to the Savior (Salvador)—as the date approaches. With love and respect for everyone who has supported my Vegas adventure …