Weekend Almighty is an irregular feature that streams my Vegas weekend as hastily remembered on Monday.
THE WINDS canceled much of Vegas this weekend — the Downtown Brew Festival and the When We Were Young Festival were two higher-profile casualties — but I reluctantly admit that it provoked some private amusement when we cruised along the north Strip Saturday night. Scissor-haired, black-clad refugees huddled on seemingly every street corner and median as we nosed our way to the front entrance of The Strat. They seemed aimless and unmoored in the heaving gales, in their bitter disappointment. The emo was real.
Everything was curtained in dancing orange dust. The Strat seemed to glow. It all looked like some strange new Halloween ritual. We were there to pick up my girlfriend’s sister and her friend, who’d made the pilgrimage to the Strat for a consolation acoustic set by Hawthorne Heights. (Packed to the walls, they said; couldn’t see a thing, they said.) They’d flown into Vegas for the Saturday installment of When We Were Young and were now bereft, beached, like so many of their brethren. We’d spend the rest of the weekend trying to cobble together some memorable Vegas itinerary for them.
I’D HAD a memorable chunk o’ weekend already, having logged a nearly full day at the Las Vegas Book Festival at the Historic Fifth Street School. The wind spared no brunt there, either, and more than once I nervously eyed the flexing metal armatures straining to keep the tent-skins tight. Despite the chancy wind, this year’s turnout seemed higher than ever and more diverse. (I was pleased to hear Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodríguez’s panel take place, dancingly, fluidly, in both English and Spanish.) I’ll confess to always falling into this kind of wincey, anxious precog headspace when it comes to the Las Vegas Book Festival, wishing for a seam-bursting (or at least seam-stretching? seam-flirting?) turnout and then getting hot with embarrassment for my hometown’s lack of literary sophistication when you see so many empty seats.
I gave that mental habit up, though, in recent years. I flipped the script and now choose to see the bookfest as an annual work of defiant, bureaucratic performance art for its own sake, turnout or not. It’s been much more fun since. Happily, though, this mode of thinking has already been rendered questionable by one of Saturday’s best panels, “Las Vegas Writes: Stories from the Editors,” which celebrated the long-running Las Vegas Writes anthology series. The series has pulled off something pretty amazing over the last decade-plus: It’s successfully coalesced the many lone literary creators toiling in Las Vegas into some viable multicellular form that could justifiably be called a “literary scene.”1
Our emo tourists in tow, we did another bookish thing this weekend, too, at their special request: A visit to Great Wall Books. It’s an institution in Chinatown, and only very slightly a bookstore. It’s better described as a teetering plastic wave of pan-Asian pop culture ephemera and kiddie stationery, all lovingly disorganized in aisles that looked like they were plowed out and shored up from an extreme retail weather event. I picked up some notepads with inspirational phrases in bad translation and a dayglo yellow multipen with six colors. I’m hoping their unapologetic whimsy serves as a kind of literary prophylactic that prevents me from ever writing about Vegas too seriously.
Photos: Various things I saw this weekend
Other notable panels included food critic John Curtas’ panel on the restaurant scene with Penny Chutima of Lotus of Siam, Rob Moore of Rosa Ristorante, and Eric Gladstone of Feast of Friends. Penny Chutima’s forthright statements about the moral mandate of incorporating ethics into restaurant operations were bracing.
Then there was, ahem, my short story panel with savage talents Wendy Wimmer, Tod Goldberg, and Las Vegas’ own Nicholas Russell. Russell’s “In the Wedding Hall” is one of the most imaginative short stories about Las Vegas I’ve ever read.