The Adventures of Yukon Sully

The Epic Story Of One Man's Quest To Find Fame, Fortune, And Some Decent Chicken Wings In The Biggest Little City In The World!

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Location: Reno, Nevada, United States

Yukon Sully is the heroic alter ego of a mild-mannered attorney who lives in a modest suburb on the outskirts of Reno, Nevada. He fights a never-ending battle for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Always remember, he's much smarter than you are.

100 Things About Me

Friday, January 05, 2007

Lake Tahoe's Existence Verified By Celluloid

My mom has recently discovered text messaging in a big way. It now seems to be her preferred form of communication. Personally I don't text much, as I find it a bit cumbersome for anything more than two or three words, plus I don't get half the abbreviations people use (ROTFLOL). But she has taken to it like a fish to water. A couple of days ago I was in court at about 9 a.m. and received a text message from her telling me that Alabama had hired Nick Saban as head football coach. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining--I was glad to find out that particular scrap of information, plus it's a great "you know you're from Alabama when..." kind of story. But it also illustrates the fact that my mother has become a texting fiend as of late.

Case in point: This morning she sent me a text message to tell me that she'd just seen an ad for a movie about a bunch of hit men trying to kill some sort of lounge lizard (Jeremy Piven, pictured below) at a Tahoe Casino. As you would expect in real life, this requires assembling a couple dozen hit-men with wildly contrasting wacky personalities, complete with outlandish costumes and overly-elaborate methods of assassination. I instantly knew the movie she was talking about since I'd seen a preview for it myself a few weeks ago. It's called Smokin' Aces, and it looks like one of those super-slick action movies from the mid-90's when every up-and-coming filmmaker wanted to be Quentin Tarantino. Whether this film turns out to be the next Snatch or (God help us) the next 3000 Miles To Graceland remains to be seen. But the thing I thought was interesting was that both my mom and I (as well as all the whispering people in the theater I saw it with) had the same thought when we saw the preview: "Hey, that's Lake Tahoe!"

Unless you live in a big photogenic city that's constantly appearing in such venues--i.e. New York, San Francisco, L.A. or Chicago--there's always a strange, giddy thrill attached to seeing your hometown or region of the country featured on TV or, better yet, in a movie. Even if it's in a context designed to make a mockery of you. In this media-soaked age of celebrity as an end unto itself, being the backdrop to a movie is almost the highest honor a community can receive. It's like the gods of consumer entertainment descending from the heavens just to bestow their blessing on you, and to let you know that yes, you count, you are worthy of being exposed to the mass consciousness. This is very important because if it never happens, how can you really be sure you exist at all?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Farewell to the Jazz Cafe

The weather today was unusually warm, more like May than January, and so I took a little more time than usual in strolling to court this afternoon. As I walked by the Artist Loft building, I noticed a small printed sign on the front door of EJ's Jazz Cafe. Apparently EJ's won't be with us much longer; the sign on the door said that the cafe is no more, and in it's place will soon be something called the Wild River Grille. The sign pointed me to this link, but apparently the website is still under construction.

I don't want to make this into the passing of an era or anything, but I always had a soft spot for EJ's. It was an eclectic environment, and one of the very few places in Reno that you could see live jazz and have something approximating real Cajun and Creole food. When I moved downtown in 2004 I used to hang out there pretty regularly since it was just a block or so up the Truckee river from the old Fortress of Solitude.

It's hard to get too nostalgic about it since it wasn't there very long and had more than it's share of problems. The place was so small that even a moderately sized crowd would make it difficult of find a seat, and although I liked the fact that they brought in some decent jazz bands (jazz is always much, much better live) the compact dimensions of the place made the music so abrasively loud that it was impossible to talk to anyone. Frankly, between the noise and the jostling of the crowd sometimes you felt like you might as well be at Brew Brothers.

Still, EJ's was one of those places that you had to appreciate the idea of, even if the execution wasn't always perfect. EJ's took a chance on downtown Reno back when that idea was still laughable, long before anyone thought of turning derelict casinos into stylish condos and the riverfront was still pretty much considered the exclusive domain of junkies and schizophrenics. I admire the owners for taking a chance on creating the sort of venue that most people would never expect to find in Reno and somehow making it work, at least for a while. I hope the new owners find success.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

The thing that I've discovered about blogging in my year-plus of doing it is that it's a lot like working out. When you're doing it, it becomes a habit and it's easy to keep it going. When you take a few days off, you start to get used to being sedentary and it can be awfully hard to get back in the habit. Essentially it follows Newton's laws: Objects in motion (i.e. blogging) tend to remain in motion, while objects at rest (i.e. not blogging) tend to remain at rest. I'm not really big into New Year's Resolutions, but I'm going to try to start posting on a more regular basis in the coming weeks.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Scratch One Christmas Party

Saturday evening Reno got it's first real snowfall of the season. As it so happened my boss was also hosting a Christmas party at his home in the south meadows that night, and Melissa and I had been invited to attend.

We set out from our home in the north valleys a little after four p.m., just as the sun was going down and the roads were starting to freeze over. Cars were sliding on Highway 395 like it was a skating rink and by the time we got to Parr Boulevard traffic had slowed to a crawl. Actually, the word "crawl" implies too much vigor. The sides of the road were littered with spun-out and stranded vehicles, and the flashing lights of police and tow trucks gave the gloaming an especially eerie look. It quickly became obvious--there was no way we were going to make it to the south meadows, much less home again at a much later hour when conditions might be even more hazardous. So we called my boss to let him know we couldn't make it, turned around and went home. We ended up spending the night cooking pasta and watching the snow fall onto our backyard.

Some good news: I am happy to report that our seven-month old Lab-Border Collie mix, Keela, absolutely loves the snow. This was her first real experience with the stuff, and after just a few seconds of confusion she took to it like a duck to water. When we got up this morning the sun had come out, and so we took the dog to one of her favorite places, the long open valley that stretches off into the Great Basin just to the east of our neighborhood. There's nothing up there but miles and miles of sage-covered mountains, peppered with the occasional stand of pinon pine. In the fresh snow the tracks of jackrabbits were visible everywhere, and our already hyperactive puppy was absolutely beside herself with excitement.

I have to admit that the clean air of the desert makes me pretty excited too, although I don't have the energy of an seven-month old puppy to express it with. Days like today make me realize what a rare and wonderful privilege it is to live in a place like this. People often ask me why I am so taken with the mountains and the open spaces of the West, and while it's the sort of thing that a person can (and that I probably will) spend a lifetime trying to put into words, I usually tell people that I love living in a place where the land is still bigger than the people. One day developers will no doubt clear the valley east of my neighborhood out to build yet more houses and more of the attendant residue of suburbia, but for today it is still raw desert, the way God intended it. For one day least, that fact made one man, one woman, and one little black dog very happy. Keela wasn't able to catch a jackrabbit today (and she probably never will--they're very wary and much too fast for her), but it's certainly nice to have space in which to chase them.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Virginia Open For Now

It may have taken me a day or two to catch on, but I noticed yesterday that Virginia Street is now open again downtown. I don't have any inside info on this, but I suspect that this is sort of akin to shoving the dirty clothes under the bed when company comes over, because while portions of the newly refurbished road look great, parts of it also look like they need to be repaved. Enjoy it for now, because I expect the road to be shut down again as soon as the League of Cities leaves town.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Good On Ya, Brazil

Earlier this year they became the first nation in America's weight class to become completely energy independent. While we spend precious blood and treasure fighting apparently endless wars over the oil-rich Middle East, Brazil, a third-world nation roughly the size of the continental U.S. and populated by close to 200 million people, meets all it's energy needs without importing a drop of oil. They can do this thanks in great part to the home grown and produced sugar cane ethanol powering millions of their vehicles. Why don't we do this in the U.S.? Sugar cane won't grow in Iowa, but that doesn't mean we don't have options. It's a more expensive process, but we could probably accomplish much the same thing in this country with corn ethanol and other renewable energy sources, and as a bonus it would be a great boon to long-suffering midwestern farmers. There are countless ways we, like our neighbors to the south, could work to throw off the yoke of foreign oil addiction. Or we can continue to sacrifice our security and the future health of the planet (not to mention billions of tax dollars and the lives of our military men and women) by remaining utterly dependant on foreign sources of energy for the foreseeable future.

But as if that weren't enough, today Brazil has made another bold move to preserve its Amazon Rainforest by placing a chunk the size of my home state of Alabama into protected status. I don't have all the details, but apparently parts of the new preserve would be open only to research, while other portions would allow for some closely managed logging and for sustainable use by local communities. This move won't stop deforestation in Brazil; that mostly goes on in the southern Amazon, which continues to be hacked up at an alarming rate despite the fact that "Saving the Rainforest" was something of a cause celebre a few years ago. But this is definitely a step in the right direction, plus it gives treehuggers like me a sense of optimism. Maybe one day we here in the first world will catch on that developing renewable, domestic energy sources and valuing environmental preservation are not only compatible concepts, they're both pretty good ideas.

Since we're on the subject of the Amazon and men who championed conservation, if you're looking for a great read check out The River of Doubt by Candice Millard. When one of our greatest Presidents, Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt, lost the 1912 election he took the defeat very personally and decided to deal with his depression by leading an expedition into an unexplored region of the Amazon jungle and down a previously uncharted river, the eponymous River of Doubt. They just don't make men like TR anymore--these days most guys deal with that innevitable mid-life sense of fading relevance by buying a sportscar and dating a much younger woman. Roosevelt chose to risk his life (and that of his son Kermit--yes, that really was his name) on a months-long trek through a region of South America that at the time was populated only by dangerous animals, semi-hostile Indian tribes, and ungodly numbers of bitings and stinging insects. The book is not only a fantastic adventure but it's also an excellent history lesson, telling the story of the expedition from the point of view of both American and Brazillian members and brining to life the early 20th Century, a time when the last blank spots on the map were finally filled in. In the modern era of GPS navigation and satellite communication there may not be any unexplored rivers left in the world, but as long as foreward thinking nations have the political will to do the right thing, then at least the Rainforest itself will survive to benefit future generations.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Embrace The Cold

An early-season cold snap has gripped Reno for the last few days. High temperatures are only creeping up into the thirties this week, giving the end of November the feel of mid Winter rather than late Fall. Today is one of those crisp, dazzling days we get around here sometimes, with fresh snow on the mountains and nary a cloud in the sky. And cold. Very, very cold.

As in most cold-climate regions, complaining about the chilly weather is a common pass time in Reno from, say, November through March. When I arrived for work early this morning I must have overheard half a dozen conversations about how tired people are of this weather (even though the weather for most of this Autumn has been fantastic), how troublesome winter clothes are, how it's time to move to Yuma, etc., etc.

I understand the dislike that most people have for cold weather--we are, by nature, warm weather creatures and couldn't even live in colder climates without the intelligence to develop strategies that help us cope with harsh winter weather. That being said, I get more aggravated at the constant complaining about the cold than I do at the cold itself.

Reno is cold for much of the year (although not nearly as cold as, say, the upper Midwest or the northern Rockies). That's just a fact of life. I'm not saying you can't grumble a little on a chilly day now and then, but I am saying that at some point you either accept the circumstances for what they are, or you move and leave more room here in God's Country for the rest of us.

Personally, I like Winter. I like the way the pace of life slows down. I like hiking in the snow. I like having a beer and a bowl of chili at Timbers on Mount Rose after snowboarding all morning. I like a warm fire or an outdoor hot tub at the end of the day. Basically, I feel like you have two choices if you live around here; you either embrace the cold during the Wintertime, or you stay miserable until April. I choose the former. Trust me, it's a lot more fun than complaining for five straight months.

Oh, by the way, Melissa and I have decided that we're going to Costa Rica for our honeymoon. What can I say, even people who embrace the cold need a little variety now and then.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Breaking News That No One But Me Cares About

I'm probably the only person in Reno today who really cares about this, but then again what am I going to do, talk about Nevada getting punked by Boise State?

Alabama will fire head football coach Mike Shula today. I suppose it was inevitable, but it's still disappointing when you consider that last year things seemed to be going so well. In 2005 a huge win against Florida (one that earned 'Bama the cover of Sports Illustrated and the inevitable curse that follows that distinction, thank you very much SI), a heart-stopping win against Tennessee, and an oh-so-close loss to LSU had me and a lot of other people thinking that the turbulence of the early '00's (side note: when are we going to decide what we're calling this decade? The aughts? The zeros? Anything is better than not knowing) with its NCAA sanctions and carousel of coaching changes was behind us.

The 2006 season dawned with a real sense of hope, and three straight wins over mediocre opponents propelled a cautious sense of optimism. Then came a painful double-overtime loss at Arkansas. Then Florida avenged last year's humiliating loss by beating 'Bama in Gainsville. Then Tennessee handed Alabama a close loss in Knoxville. Then Mississippi State (Mississippi State!) surprised the Tide in Tuscaloosa. Then another loss to LSU. Then, most painful of all, another loss to despised Auburn, the fifth in a row to the cow college across the state. With the exception of Miss. State, none of those game results were particularly surprising in and of themselves. But when you add it up the results for the 2006 season--barring a bowl game, for which the Tide is actually eligible--is a record of 6-6, with only two conference wins. That, coupled with disastrous records against Alabama's primary rivals during Shula's tenure (1-3 against Tennessee, 0-4 against LSU and the cow college) made today's announcement a virtual certainty.

Everyone liked Mike Shula personally, but making him the head coach at Alabama always did seem a little bit like giving a 16-year-old who just got his license the keys to a new Porsche. Instead of contending for National Championships, it seems clear now that the Tide has slipped into a morass of mediocrity. The past year has made it painfully obvious; the Tide today is a middle-of-the-pack SEC team, capable of beating the top tier schools, but usually doing so only when overlooked.

Like all Alabama fans, I'm sick to death of losing to our biggest rivals over and over while struggling to beat cellar-dwellers like Vanderbilt, but I also know that better days are coming. All the tools are there for someone who knows how to use them, and college football's great powerhouses rarely stay dormant for long. In the meantime, it's hard to be too broken up about football when you live in God's Country. Did you hear? The first big snowstorm of the season is moving through the area right now, dumping perhaps 18 inches of fresh powder up in the high country, and ski resorts all over the Tahoe area are opening up. Looks like it's going to be another great season here in paradise. When you get down to it watching college football is watching a bunch of 20-year-old guys you never met chasing a funny-shaped ball around a field. Snowboarding--now there's something to get excited about.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Goodbye To A Giant

Everyone who loves movies suffered a loss yesterday. Robert Altman, one of the men who revolutionized American cinema in the boundary-pushing 1970's, died at the age of 81. Along with men like Scorsese, Coppola, DePalma, Spielberg and Lucas, he changed the way we thought about art, ourselves, and the world we live in.

Altman's best films, including his masterpiece Nashville and his best-known film M*A*S*H, were completed many years ago. But Altman always seemed to be working, always turning out something new. The Internet Movie Database lists 87 TV or movie projects that he directed going back to 1951, and he wrote or produced many more. Not every film he made was bold and daring, or even in some cases particularly good, but even late in his career he could still turn out a great one now and then, like 2001's Gosford Park.

I won't go into a long tribute here, but I do want to mention a scene that sticks out in my mind from what turned out to be his last movie, A Prairie Home Companion. Stop reading here if you don't want the ending spoiled. The film is based on the NPR radio program of the same name. Although the movie is ostensibly a tribute to Garrison Keillor's long-running variety show (a show I happen to like, although I admit it's an acquired taste), it's really a movie about loss and the wispy, ephemeral nature of all the things we cling to. Most of the story takes place during the fictional final broadcast of Keillor's weekly program. During the movie Virginia Madsen flits in and out as the Angel of Death, who we ultimately learn has come to claim one or possibly more of the movie's characters before the night is out. In the end the final show is completed and the program comes to an end so that a Texas corporation (subtle, eh?) can demolish the theater.

The last scene is particularly haunting. A year after the final broadcast a group of regular cast members is sitting around a table in a diner, reminiscing about the old days, enjoying each other's company and batting around the idea of trying to revive the show in a new form. Suddenly, unexpectedly, the Angel appears in the doorway. They see her but say nothing, and she stand quietly and looks at them for a few seconds, then silently walks toward the table as the screen goes dark. We are left to ponder which of the characters she had come for.

How fitting that this was the great director's last scene. Who exactly was the Angel of Death coming for? In the commentary track on the DVD Altman says he thinks (although he doesn't seem sure) that she's coming for Kevin Kline's detective Guy Noir. But now, upon further recollection, it is clear to me. Obviously, she was coming for everyone at that table. And Altman himself. And us. Like all great artists Altman ultimately didn't offer instructions or answers, only truth. He will be missed.

Que Lastima

I don't know how many people saw this, but the distant Vegas suburb of Pahrump, Nevada passed an ordinance last week which not only made English the town's official language--a move that by itself reflects a disturbingly high level of paranoia--but also makes it illegal to fly a foreign nation's flag without also flying the flag of the United States. And the American flag must not be lower than the foreign flag or you can be fined and/or forced to do 30 hours of community service. I am totally not making this up. I can't find the actual statute itself online, but although it probably isn't directly stated in the language this is obviously a move by frightened people lashing out at the marchers who filled American streets with Mexican flags during large demonstrations a few months ago. From the Reuters news story about the new law:

Supporters said they passed the measure to hit back at Hispanic demonstrators who carried Mexican flags when they marched in U.S. cities earlier this year to press for rights for 10 million to 12 million illegal immigrants living in the shadows.

"All of the illegal alien protesters are waving Mexican flags, and we just got tired of it," town board clerk Paul Willis told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"This is the United States, and the Stars and Stripes should fly supreme," he added.

Do I even have to point out how obviously Unconstitutional this is? No matter what you feel about the issue of what to do about this nation's broken immigration system (a complex question that I'm conflicted on myself), and no matter how intimidated you are at the thought of thousands of foreign-born men and women and children marching in the streets of this country and demanding some sort of recognition, any rational person must see that the authoritarian mindset that leads to laws like this is the complete antithesis of everything this great country stands for. Thankfully we have no such law up here in Northern Nevada, but even if we did I would still proudly fly my flag of the Republic of Ireland on St. Patrick's Day, and frankly I'd love to see some frightened, reactionary tin-pot dictator try to make me do otherwise. And if you think that somehow makes me less patriotic, you obviously don't understand the meaning of the word.

Man, Who Saw THAT Coming?

After this week I don't think anyone's ever going to look at Kramer quite the same way again.

Perhaps we're giving Michael Richard's ugly, hateful meltdown (which everyone's probably seen by now so I won't directly link to it) more attention than it deserves, but like the Mel Gibson "Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world" rant, it's the sort of thing that makes you wonder: Just what kind of frightening, supposedly antiquated beliefs and attitudes still percolate just beneath the surface of our culture, a culture that some of us want to see grow more tolerant of our innate differences?

At least we can take consolation in the fact that after a little nervous laughter at the beginning of his tirade, the audience seemed to uniformally turn on Richards. Fifty years ago, a lot more people would have felt perfectly comfortable agreeing with him in public. Today, most people react with horror and revulsion. I guess that's some progress.

UPDATE: I've heard from a couple of sources now that an interesting theory is floating around. Apparently some people are starting to suspect that Richard's tirade, so obviously offensive and over the top, was probably an Andy Kaufman-esque stunt that achieved it's intended result, and that the real joke is on all of us for believing it was real. Proponents of this theory point to the historical oddity that Michael Richards was once involved on one of Andy Kaufman's great put-ons (or was it?!?!), the famous foiled-sketch brawl from the otherwise-forgotten TV show Fridays.

I don't give a lot of credence to this theory, clever though it may be. First of all, I don't think they could have planned the viral spread of the video. But more importantly, Andy Kaufman may have mocked wrestling fans, but I can't see him using the N-word in a context like this. Kaufman's fight with Jerry "The King" Lawler on Letterman may have shocked people at the time, but looking back on it now it seems pretty funny. What Richards said will never, ever seem funny.

Monday, November 20, 2006

I, Douche-bag

I have to apologize for my behavior Saturday. I was on the wine walk but also trying to keep an eye on Alabama-Auburn (still a sore subject) and the big game of the day, Ohio State-Michigan, at every place we went into that had a TV. One of the guys I was doing the walk with was Tivo-ing the big game and everywhere from Silver Peak to Seven he was doing the fingers-in-the-ears, "don't tell me the score" dance. Funny and sort of sad as it was, it's just one of those unspoken Guy rules--you can taunt a friend who's Tivo-ing the game all you want, you can dance right up to the edge and fake as if you are right about to reveal the score, but if you actually give away the real outcome of the game, you are a complete douche-bag.

Well, to make a long story short, we were in the Sierra Tap House toward the end of the walk and some strange guy comes running in and says "who won the game?" Well, I had had a few wine samples at that point, but that's no excuse. Without thinking I blurted out "Ohio State by three." And from behind, in my blind spot, came up a loud, plaintive "NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!" There's no getting around it; in a moment of carelessness I had committed one of the worst offenses known to guys.

So my sincerest apologies, anonymous friend. I only hope that my cautionary tale can serve as an example to those who will come after me. And I'm sure I've got a big comeuppance coming from Karma.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

This Time It's For More Than A Cheap Buzz

If you're still looking for a way to help victims of the Mizpah fire, try this weekend's Wine Walk downtown. The monthly event is always a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon, but this weekend half the proceeds will go to benefit the people who lost so much in what is now the deadliest fire in Reno's history. If you've never done the Wine Walk before, it's easy; just show up at any of these places at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 18, pay your $15 (it's been a while since I've done it but I think that's still the price) and start walking around downtown Reno and sampling wine. As a bonus, the walk will end with the lighting of the City of Reno's truly gigantic Christmas tree next to the ice rink in the Virginia Street Plaza. So dress warmly and please come out, because this time it's for a really good cause.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Katy's Video

Do me a favor if you have a few minutes. Click here. The link will take you to a short video about my little sister Katy and her quest to run in the 2008 Paralympics in Bejing. She's an inspiration.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Rummy, We Hardly Knew Ye

I've spent the last couple of days getting over the double-whammy of a stomach virus and the breakup of Brit and K-Fed. I really thought those two kids were gonna make it. But life goes on I suppose. So here are a few thoughts on the recent national elections:

* Boy, was I pleased to have been wrong about the size of the Democratic "wave" that has now apparently take back both houses of Congress, along with a majority of governor's chairs and state legislatures. What a huge win (and don't buy that bogus "six year itch" excuse that the talking heads are jabbering about--Clinton actually gained house seats in his sixth year, and Reagan lost only a handful). I predicted that Dems would only win a narrow majority in the House and fall a couple seats short in the Senate. Although the reasons behind such a large Democratic victory are numerous, I think that above all I seriously underestimated the frustration that people are feeling over the Iraq war. So, apparently, did the Republicans.

* Can we please finally retire the notion that Karl Rove is some sort of super-human genius of unspeakable power? He's just a fairly smart political operative who's willing to sink to just about any level to see that his candidate wins. His strategy of dividing the country and playing primarily to the mega-church and talk-radio base (which, by the way, he didn't invent) worked a couple times, but motivating one half of the population by demonizing the other half is not a recipe for long-term success. Oh, and trying to turn the final week of the campaign into a referendum on a botched joke by John Kerry? Not so brilliant.

* Speaking of dividing the country, it's becoming apparent (to me, anyway) that the convenient shorthand of splitting the nation into a giant red middle sandwiched between two blue coastlines is losing whatever analytical value it may have ever had. Yes, the Northeast and sizeable portions of the West Coast are more apt to vote for Democrats, and the South and the Great Plains have a tendency to elect Cultural Conservatives. But I don't see either the Populist Midwest or the Libertarian Mountain West (and of course these categorizations are overly simplistic, too) as fitting neatly into the blue/red dynamic. Maybe it's time to move past such overbroad ways of classifying people and regions of the country.

* For the suddenly triumphant Democrats: Keep the proper perspective. Yes, when Bill Clinton was in office the Republican Congress wasted gobs of time and money investigating every paper clip that went missing from the White House. And yes, I think a primary motivation for those who voted you back into power was the desire to see some sort of oversight and (God forbid) accountability for this administration. But focusing on getting things done in the here-and-now will be the best way to distinguish yourself from the current House and Senate. Meaningful healthcare reform is probably too much to ask so long as Bush still wields the veto pen, but a step-up in the minimum wage would be a great move, as would some kind of immigration reform.

* Brit: Please, please give K-Fed another chance. If you kids can't make it, I don't know if there's hope for any of us.

Monday, November 06, 2006

You Can Help Mizpah Victims

The death toll in the Mizpah fire has reached 11. Dozens are hurt or left homeless. Click here for some ways you can help.

Back In Reno

I'm back from Pittsburgh. Congratulations to my cousin Claire and her new husband Joe. They had a gorgeous wedding.

The trip was one of those 48 hour in-and-out jobs that I'm so famous for in my family circles. It's unfortunate, but it's sort of the nature of the beast when you live on way out west and most of your family is back east. But at least my own fiancee Melissa finally got to meet the extended members of the giant Irish horde she's marrying in to.

One thing I can definitely say about Pittsburgh: Man, do they love their local football franchise. When we got off the plane and exited our concourse at the airport we were greeted by two lifesize, full-color statues of that were put there (I guess) to give the incoming visitor a sense of Pittsburgh's place in history. One statute was of a young George Washington, who as a young man distinguished himself just south of the site of the modern city at the Battle of the Monongahela during the French and Indian War. The other statute? Franco Harris, frozen in the act of making the Immaculate Reception. I sh** you not.

The other thing I'll say about the 'Burgh is that if anyone ever had the necessary capitol and wanted a sure-fire way make a lot of money on an investment, move to Pittsburgh and start a taxi service. The two notable cab companies in Pittsburgh appear to be completely incompetent. In the middle of the day on Saturday (Saturday! Not a busy weekday, mind you, but Saturday!) I called one of these cab companies only to be put on hold for about ten minutes, then told that they were too busy and I should call their competition. I called the competition, and was on hold for half an hour--this is not an exaggeration--before giving up. All I was trying to do was get from the Children's Museum, where Melissa and I were spending time with my niece, to our hotel which was barely a mile away. In the end, I was forced to call my dad and have him contact the hotel concierge, then get in a cab himself (for some reason they wouldn't do it if he didn't come along for the ride) and come get us. When I got back and complained to the hotel staff, I was told this is pretty much par for the course in Pittsburgh.

Oh well. It's still a pretty nice place, lousy cab service notwithstanding.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Off To The 'Burgh

I'm headed to Pittsburgh this weekend to see my cousin Claire get married. I'll be back here in God's Country on Sunday.

So...who can actually name the three rivers?

Contrary To Popular Opinion, I DO Know Jack

Or at least I met him. Okay, I shook his hand and told him my name as he handed me a flyer. But that's something, at least.

I'm not into name-dropping (nor could I be even if I wanted to, since I don't know very many people), but I got to meet Jack Carter, son of the former President, when he stopped by my office a few days ago. He's running for Senate against Republican John Ensign, and anyone who knows my political leanings knows I wish him well in that endeavor. If recent polling means anything then he probably won't be able to unseat Ensign, but I appreciate the effort nonetheless.

There was one thing that really struck me, though. As I came out into the lobby he was introducing himself to a co-worker of mine and he said "I'm Jack Carter, I'm running for Senate and I'M A DEMOCRAT!" He really strongly emphasized the "I'M A DEMOCRAT" part. Odd, I thought, to hear someone proclaiming that so proudly. In the past, people haven't been so exuberant in claiming that party affiliation. Right-wingers have managed to turn the word "Democrat" into something of a pejorative in much of the country, just as they have done with the word "Liberal." Many of them, even the President himself, usually won't even refer to the Democratic Party by it's proper name. Instead they call it "the Democrat Party", as though to allow even the common courtesy of the use of a proper name would somehow bestow on the Democratic Party a dignity it didn't deserve.

I could be reading too much in to Jack's bold declaration. I'm sure most Democratic candidates would, if asked, tell you that they are proud of their party affiliation even if they haven't always been overly enthusiastic in trumpeting it. But I wonder if what I heard from Jack Carter could be an indication of where things are going this year, if not in the Ensign-Carter race itself then perhaps in the country as a whole. I get the unmistakable feeling that for the first time in at least twelve years, this is not a good time to be a Republican running for office.

The Iraq war becomes more of an albatross around the necks of the ruling party every day. The Republican President's approval ratings continue to hover in the 30's, and the Republican-controlled congress is even less popular. And although Republicans and their media outlets endlessly gush about the economy, the fact is that record highs on Wall Street are not making people feel more secure: one recent poll found that a majority of likely voters in eight key states are "very" or "somewhat" worried about the direction of the economy, perhaps because despite all the alleged good news in recent weeks about a third of those in each state polled feels that they have "fallen behind" in their finances. I guess that knowing that the already-well-off are doing better than ever doesn't mean much to people struggling to live paycheck to paycheck.

Will this be a tidal wave year for the Democratic Party like 1994 was for Republicans? I doubt it. True, right now Democrats are a lot more popular than Republicans in a broad, national sense. But national mood is one thing, individual races something else entirely. Normally when people say "throw the bums out", they mean everyone else's bums, not their own bum who regularly brings home the pork. Over the years district gerrymandering and political polarization have made incumbents virtually unbeatable in most House districts. So even though the R's have left a sour taste in a lot of people's mouths after six years of unchecked rule, there probably isn't going to be a rout this year as there might have been in years past.

My fearless prognostication is that Democrats will pick up the 15 seats necessary to take control of the lower chamber of Congress, but just barely. Even thought the political middle seems to have abandoned the GOP, there's always that hard-core 30 percent or so (that's just my own ham-fisted estimate, but I think it's pretty accurate) of the population that has become much too personally identified with pseudo-populist Conservatives--and in particular with GWB himself--to even consider other alternatives. These super culture-warriors are, in their own minds, always under siege (despite having controlled the federal government for the better part of a decade) and highly motivated. Their all-encompassing focus on wedge issues, along with the Republicans' legendary get-out-the-vote apparatus, will probably be enough to turn what in past years would be a complete House massacre into a mere narrow win for Dems.

The Senate is another matter. Here the Democrats need a net gain of six seats to take control. Chances look good in four states--Montana, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania--for Democrats to unseat Republicans, and other states in which Republicans once threatened to take seats from Dems--most notably New Jersey--now seem to be leaning more solidly Blue. That would mean that Democrats need to take two of three toss-up races in Tennessee, Virginia and Missouri. All three of those races are in statistical dead heats, but I've lived in the South most of my life, and knowing the region as well as I do I just don't see Virginia and Tennessee abandoning the GOP when the chips are down (even if Harold Ford Jr. is just to the right of Joe Lieberman). That would mean that Democrats will come up one or two Senators short of a complete take-back of Congress. Still, these results would make me very happy. It would mean the significant weakening of an administration that has encountered no real opposition over the last six years as they have weakened our civil liberties, run up record deficits, made a handful of people very rich while simultaneously helping drive up the numbers of poor and uninsured, continued squeezing out the middle class, and expended vast amounts of blood and treasure in a futile attempt at what they themselves used to deride as "nation-building." President Bush and his ideology would not be gone, but he would be the walking definition of a lame duck.

A lot can happen in five days, of course. If they've proven nothing else in the last ten or twenty years, it's that no one can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory quite like the Democratic Party. Plus, don't look for the avalanche of attack ads to let up any time soon; the Republicans have been playing that game since W's father won the 1988 Presidential election on an anti-Willie Horton/pro-Pledge of Allegiance platform, and they aren't about to stop drawing water from that well until it dries up. Never (mis)underestimate the power of fear and manipulation.

Still, for the first time in I honestly can't remember how long, I feel pretty positive going into an election. And if the Republicans do manage to keep control, hey, I'm a Cub fan; crushing defeat is nothing new to me.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

So It's Come To This: I'm Ripping Off Bill Maher

Last night was our first Halloween in our new house. Now that it's over with, I'd like to suggest a new rule for next year's Halloween: If you are over the age of eight, you must actually wear a costume if you're going to go trick-or-treating. Please don't show up at my house wearing blue jeans and a hoodie, holding out a pillowcase and expecting me to give you something. And putting on your Vans sweatshirt and saying you're "a skater" doesn't count.

And I hate to be a spoil-sport, but some of you (and you know who you are) have left me no choice. I'm afraid that I'm going to have to declare that if you have facial hair or are old enough to drive yourself from house to house, it's time for you to let trick-or-treating go, at least until you have kids of your own. By the time you hit high school, what you are doing isn't so much "trick-or-treating" as it is "panhandling". Anyway, this is time that you should be spending trying to get your hands on a believable fake I.D.

Fire at the Mizpah

I found Lake Street closed to traffic and barricaded when I got to work this morning. Just up the block from my office the Mizpah Hotel, a building that dates to the 1920's, suffered tremendous damage in a late-night fire. Details are still sketchy, but six people were killed and about 30 injured. The hotel is (or was) a beautiful old red-brick residential hotel, serving as home to over 80 people. One person has been arrested and charged with murder and arson--it looks like the suspicion at this point is that the fire was intentionally set, although few details are available. It's feared the more victims might yet be discovered in a portion of the hotel where the roof collapsed. I'll have more information on this when I get it, but for more check out the RGJ's website, where they're doing regular updates.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Scorsese's Back Where He Belongs

Went to see The Departed last night. Man, is that a fantastic movie. Easily Scorsese's best since GoodFellas, and it's surely not a coincidence that, like that 1990 masterpiece, this film is set on the mean streets that provide the director his greatest inspiration. If, as I've heard some argue, the praising of Scorsese as a genius of the gangster movie is a ghetto-izing of a great filmmaker, well, so be it. All I know is that Taxi Driver and Raging Bull are brilliant films that work in ways that decent-but-not-transcendent movies like The Aviator and Kundun do not.

The Departed is great for so many reasons. Jack Nicholson fantastic as a Boston crime boss, and for the first time in ages doesn't seem like a parody of himself. The cat-and-mouse interplay between law enforcement and the Irish Mob, each trying to uncover a mole within their ranks, is extremely compelling. The Boston atmosphere is so real that you can almost smell the Fenway Franks. There are great supporting roles from Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen and Mark "Marky Mark" Wahlberg (who's rapid fire, profanity-laced New England accent is by far the most spot-on in the film). Even Leonardo DeCaprio impressed me, and that's saying a lot since he usually makes me want to throw things at the screen. Plus, the soundtrack prominently features Dropkick Murphys, and there's nothing bad about that:

The movie will get a lot of award nominations, particularly for Jack (Jaaaack!), but it probably won't actually win much. First of all, it's not perfect; the Boston accents are a little shaky at times, and the film is probably about twenty minutes too long. Second, it's total lack of even a hint of feel-good sentimentality basically eliminates it from being a real threat to take Best Picture, since Oscar and most of the other major awards usually reward end up rewarding "pretty good but safe" over "artistically challenging work of genius." Forrest Gump will always win over Pulp Fiction, Crash will always beat Brokeback Mountain, and that's just the way it goes.

But if you're just interested in seeing maybe America's greatest living filmmaker at the top of his game, go see this movie. In the interests of balancing opinion, I will tell you that Melissa didn't think much of this movie (although keep in mind that her favorite movie is probably Center Stage), and my mom, who saw it separately back in Alabama last week, thought it was great but was turned off by the over-the-top violence. As for me, I'd say this is one of the best movie I've seen this year.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Happy Nevada Day

Today is the official observance of Nevada Day, although the Day itself is October 31. Nevada Day is actually a pretty big deal in these parts. It commemorates the day in 1864 that Nevada was admitted to the Union as the 36th state despite the then-raging American Civil War. This is the reason our state flag has the words "Battle Born" on it. Most Nevadans believe that Nevada's statehood was pushed forward during the war in order to somehow safeguard Union access to Comstock Lode silver that was pouring out of Virginia City, just over the Virginia Range from Reno. This is not true; the Federal government would have had much better direct control over access to Comstock silver while Nevada was still part of a Federal territory. Statehood was really rushed through just prior to the elections of 1864 in order to help Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party keep control of Congress. But whatever the reason the important thing is that the Greatest of All The States is turning 142 years old this Tuesday.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Ruminations For A Wednesday (One Day Late)

Wednesday is the second most vacuous day of the week, from a spiritual standpoint. It's not quite as vapid as the great empty nothingness that is Tuesday, but only because it's a little closer to the weekend and you can make lots of lame "hump-day" jokes, if you're so inclined (contrary to popular belief, Monday is not the worst day of the week--Monday is certainly not fun, but at least we get to enjoy the camaraderie of shared misery, that whole "it's Monday, it sucks, but we're all in this together" sort of esprit de corps).

The only thing that used to brighten Wednesdays up for me was the fact that that was the day that the new issue of The Onion was published online. I love The Onion, but ironically my favorite part was not the satirical news stories (they're great, but the best joke is almost always the headline itself) or the infografics or the always hilarious American Voices, but the only part of the entire website that isn't completely made up: The A.V. Club.

Recently this section of the website, which focuses exclusively on pop-culture stuff (movies, books, TV, music, video games--one of my favorite sub-sections is Commentary Tracks of the Damned, which dissects DVD commentary tracks made for terrible, terrible movies) has changed it's format. They've stopped publishing new issues on Wednesdays, and now new articles and features appear randomly during the week. This has jostled my Wednesday routine, but I'm not upset because they've also recently added some new features including a newswire, a club blog, and the best addition of all, Amelie Gillette's collection of "Pop Culture Love Letters" called The Hater.

I particularly loved this entry the other day, a list of Things That Still Exist But Shouldn't. Here's her list, with my comments in parentheses:

1. The Real World (My only request would be to throw in Survivor, too. And all those other "pretty people bitching about each other" reality shows that all sort of run together after a while)
2. News Items About Mike Tyson (I gotta admit, "Mike Tyson Still Crazy" doesn't really qualify as an earth-shattering news bulletin)
3. Tickle Me Elmo Hysteria (I can't comment on this--I'm only sort of vaguely aware of who/what Elmo is)
4. Judge Judy (Yes, yes, yes, sweet merciful God YEEEEES)

How much fun is a list of Things That Still Exist But Shouldn't? I can't resist ripping off the idea. So here is my own humble list of stuff that has long since outlived whatever entertainment value it may have once had:

1. TV Sitcoms. I know that Sitcoms, like snowboarding and Saturday Night Live, are declared "dead" by the supposed authorities on an annual basis. It's something of a cliche. But with the single exception of Sienfeld, there hasn't been a truly funny, original, and (here's the part that eliminates Arrested Development) successful sitcom on television in at least two decades. I exclude The Simpsons and other animated shows from the category of Sitcoms 1) because animation is by it's very nature a genre that allows for expansion and experimentation outside the parameters that define live-action entertainment, and 2) because it's my list and I say so.

2. Tom Leykis. I know he's got a million mouth-breather fans out there, but honestly, for how many more years is this guy going to do the exact same show every day? I don't care whether you like his gender-baiting schtick or not, if you've heard a half-hour of this show then you've pretty much heard the last ten years.

3. No-Frills DVDs. The bells and whistles are the WHOLE POINT of DVDs! Nothing is more aggravating to me than taking a DVD off the video store shelf, turning it over, and reading that the "Special Features" consist entirely of "theatrical trailer" and "subtitles in English and French". How can I possibly contain my excitement? The only reason No-Frills DVDs continue to exist is because the industry knows that after the money is made off the initial round of sales and rentals, fans of the movie will still buy the "Special Edition" DVD when it comes out in two years, as well as the "Director's Cut" two years after that, and then perhaps the "10th Anniversary Edition", if they can manage to play it out that far.

4. Boy Band Members. The music is bad enough. But then we end up having to follow these Tiger Beat turds down through the years as they progress through the various levels of celebrity decay (tabloid scandals, strange marriages, reality shows, etc.). Thanks a lot, VH-1.

5. MTV. It couldn't possibly have been this stupid back when I watched it in High School. Could it?

6. Saw-type horror movies. One or two new ones come out every month, and they always make a tidy sum on their opening weekend. And yet I don't know anyone who can legally buy a beer who goes to see them.

See how much fun this is? That's a good start to the list for now. I'll surely come back to this stolen idea in the near future.

Ice, Ice Baby

For a while now I've been hearing rumors that despite the official word to the contrary the Rink on the River, Reno's downtown ice rink, would not be returning this year. Looking out the window of my office just now, it appears that these were nothing more than rumors because the ice rink equipment is being moved into the Virginia Street Plaza.

Speaking of the Plaza, I wasn't able to find out what, if anything, was decided at the city council meeting yesterday about the construction of a giant shade-canopy. The canopy was originally supposed to be part of the design of the Plaza but has apparently run into cost problems. If anyone knows how this was addressed yesterday, please let me know. It's going to pretty embarrassing if we have another sunny winter that constantly melts the outdoor rink.

UPDATE: Downtown Makeover reports that the issue was kicked down the curb to December.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

World's Worst

Keith Olbermann (who has been at the top of his game lately) bestowed upon Jim Gibbons, Republican Candidate for Governor of Nevada, the coveted title of Worst Person in the World today. In case you hadn't heard, a Las Vegas cocktail waitress told police last week that Gibbons assaulted and propositioned her in a parking garage. But according to Keith it is not these alleged inappropriate actions that win Mr. Gibbons his crown, but rather the disappointing "lesson" he says he has learned from the experience. To get the details see the video here. All I know is that right now Scandalmonger has to be the happiest person in this state.

Goodbye To The Sundowner

I noticed coming back from lunch the other day that the "Sundowner" sign is coming down off the former casino of that name on Arlington Avenue. Obviously this is part of that building's gradual transformation into Belvedere Towers, one of at least a dozen major condo projects in various states of completion in downtown Reno right now. The essential website for information on downtown redevelopment, Downtown Makeover, has a great summary here. I remember this project being talked about approximately two years ago. D.M. says that while much work has been done, completion of the final phase is "estimated" at 2009. Of course, in Reno the phrase "estimated completion date" has a much looser definition than it does most other places when it comes to construction projects, so who knows.

Seeing the Sundowner sign coming down got me thinking. I don't live downtown anymore, and these days I'm sort of out of the loop on where development is heading. Obviously at least one major renovation--Riverwalk Tower, at the site of the former Comstock Casino--has been completed and several others--Palladio, Montage, etc.--are well underway. But there are definite signs that not everything is hunky-dory. Downtown Makeover has gone out on a limb and declared the massive Waterfront project "unofficially dead" until someone proves otherwise. A lot of people, like Myrna the Mynx (correct me if I'm wrong, Mynx), had hoped that this would be a sort of signature piece of architecture for Reno. Other large and small projects that are still in their developmental stages seem to be stuck in limbo, although hard hard facts are sometimes difficult to come by.

But beyond numbers, what I wonder is whether or not the momentum of a couple of years ago has been lost. In mid-2004, when I first bought the little condo that I nicknamed The Fortress of Solitude in (now it can be revealed) Arlington Tower, I could sense the energy and the general sense of optimism in and around downtown Reno. That's why I chose to live there, rather than in some stucco apartment complex. Downtown had at one time been the sort of place where decent people tended not to go, but I and a lot of other folks were convinced that it was about to be reborn as a hip urban center, a sort of miniature Soho in the Sierras. A lot of pieces, like the Wingfield Kayak Park, the Nevada Museum of Art and the refurbished Riverwalk, were already in place. And when derelict casino after derelict casino was bought up for conversion into condos, I felt even further vindicated in my belief, even though I wondered from the very start whether or not there was enough real demand to fill these thousands of proposed living spaces.

These days, I don't feel that same energy that I did two years ago. Maybe it's the fact that I'm out of touch since I no longer live there, but I suspect that a few factors may be leading to a loss of enthusiasm for downtown redevelopment. One factor is that most of the condo projects completed or underway downtown are shooting for a pretty high-end market, which would seem to me to price out a lot of the young single professionals or service industry workers who would be most interested in living downtown. Another factor is that while a lot of great local business have sprung up and in some cases begun to thrive in the redevelopment zone, larger retailers and restaurants have (with some notable exceptions) stayed away, probably for fear that the downtown area has neither the residential population nor the economic base to support them. And then there's the general Reno malaise that I run into so often whenever I talk enthusiastically about some project that I think is positive for the region: The response I tend to get most often is "it won't work--this is Reno."

I'm not the most informed person on the issue of downtown redevelopment, and if you can't tell I'm kind of fishing to be told that I'm wrong on this. Anyone who remembers what the river front was like just three or four years ago knows that the improvements have been tremendous. But I can't help but feel that if you'd asked me in May of 2004 where I thought we'd be by October 2006, I'd have thought that we'd be a lot further along. I would have assumed that by now there would be thousand more people living downtown. I would have thought for sure that we'd have a grocery store, a drug store, and many more thriving local and nationally-known retailers and service providers doing business with and hopefully providing good jobs for those new local residents. And I would have assumed that a great many more construction and redesign projects would be completed or near completion. Some of this has happened, but the process has been agonizingly slow and much remains to be done.

I so want downtown Reno to become the sort of place I still believe it has the potential to be. I just can't escape the sinking feeling that a lot of the momentum has been lost over the last few months. I hate sounding like such a pessimist. Somebody, anybody, please tell me I'm wrong on this.