The Unassuming Charm of Boulder City, Nevada

I spent the better part of my Saturday exploring the artist enclave that is Boulder City, Nevada. While I’d driven through it a number of times in the past, I’d only ever stopped briefly for gas or coffee. This time around, I arrived by bus and explored on foot. And I was very pleasantly surprised.

One of many of the gorgeous murals. Photo by A. La Canfora
                                  One of many of the gorgeous murals. Photo by A. La Canfora

Boulder City lay in the hills just outside Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. The town sprouted up in the 1930’s as a result of the construction of the dam. Housing was needed for the workers and so a village was erected by the government and a number of corporations. To keep the men clean and honest, gambling and booze were kept illegal. Not that that really meant much, with Las Vegas only a short 30 miles away. But gambling remains illegal still, while alcohol was permitted in 1969. To maintain the sober integrity of the village in the early 30’s, visitors to the town had to pass through a gatehouse and were allowed in only with a permit. BC ceased to be a company town when it became incorporated in 1959.

I disembarked on Arizona Street in the heart of the historic downtown. Across from me I

Photo by A. La Canfora
Photo by A. La Canfora

spied the Boulder Theater. Opened in 1932 and bought and renovated by Desi “Little Ricky” Arnaz, Jr., the theater regularly hosts ballet troupes and theater companies.

I meandered past bustling, funky cafes and antique shops, enjoying the breeze up there at 2500 feet. The narrow, leafy lanes of the village were packed with Memorial Day weekend revelers. Classic cars rumbled down the streets, on their way to the vintage car show at a nearby park.

Photo by A. La Canfora
               Photo by A. La Canfora

What really impressed me was the obvious efforts to maintain the character and integrity of the village. There was nary a Starbucks or McDonald’s in site. The majority of the businesses were clearly home-grown. And it’s also a testament to Boulder City’s management that even while retaining its history it has maintained a sense of humor. You don’t always see the two together, as oftentimes humor gets lost in a quest for dignity. Whimsical sidewalk sculptures and vintage neon signs, along with shops such as the alien-themed “Flying Saucer,” help keep a sense of joy intact.

Crazy, life-size mannequins of the Blues Brothers and a thrumming, happy-looking crowd helped lure me inside a corner building. Part antique shop, part thrift store, it was teeming with bric-a-brac – every inch seemed to be taken up. And it went on for miles, just a maze of corridors that lead

Lord help me...photo by A. La Canfora
Lord help me…photo by A. La Canfora

to tiny nooks and rooms, each with a theme, like “old Hollywood films,” or “antique kitchen.” I gasped and quickly averted my eyes when I spied the vinyl record room, since I’m on a budget and have a weakness for LPs. Jukeboxes, vintage slot machines, framed pictures of Lucille Ball-no doubt the result of her son living in town-vintage coats, leather boots, guitars, Coca-cola bottles….it just went on and on. You could spend years rifling around in there and not see everything. What fun!

I popped into the old-timey candy shop for a snack, a thick and yummy, homemade chocolate milkshake. The best part about it was that it wasn’t too sweet. I sipped as I

Boulder City is a town after my own heart. Photo by A. La Canfora
Boulder City – A town after my own quirky heart. Photo by A. La Canfora

strolled past the shops and through a promenade strewn with wooden benches. I was in love.

I headed up Nevada Way and veered down Colorado Street, where the car show was happening in beautiful green Wilbur Square. Full of massive, towering trees, the park was packed silly with folks gawking at gleaming cars, so lovingly cared for. 1950’s rockabilly blared from speakers and I stood at the top of the park’s stairs and drank in the scene, wishing my dad were alive to see this. He’d have been in heaven.

Across from Wilbur Square, resting atop a hill, is the lovely historic parks and recreation building. I climbed the steps up past the vast lawn where at the top it was lined on either side by a well-tended garden. I walked around to the back of the building where I noticed a pagoda by a cliff. Of course I had to inspect it and was rewarded with a sweeping, breathtaking view of Lake Mead, the water pure blue under a sky teeming with pillowy clouds and thunderheads.

Lake Mead. Photo by A. La Canfora
                                             View of Lake Mead from Boulder City. Photo by A. La Canfora
The historic hotel. Photo by A. La Canfora
The historic hotel. Photo by A. La Canfora

I walked back down the hill and stopped into the historic Boulder Dam Hotel and Museum, attractive with its white colonnade and Southern appeal. The tasteful, Western appointment of the lobby was inviting-I could’ve hung out there all day, reading my book I’d brought with me, poems by Philip Levine. Instead I made my way upstairs to the gallery, where I quickly surmised that my own mosaic art would

The inviting lobby...photo by A. La Canfora
The inviting lobby…photo by A. La Canfora

fit right in with their colorful and contemporary aesthetic. I made a pitch for my art to Rosemary, who was manning the gallery on that day and she gave me an application to have my work juried. Keep your fingers crossed!

What a wonderful day. Thanks, Boulder City! I’ll be seeing you again soon…

The author with new friend. Photo by A. La Canfora
                                          The author with a new friend. Photo by A. La Canfora

Survival in the Big Pink

Natural disaster is on a lot of people’s minds these days, or at least mine. Climate change, drought, earthquakes…there are myriad potential disasters that can strike any region, any time. The prospect is unsettling, terrifying, even. The Las Vegas valley, where I make my home, is susceptible to a variety of natural catastrophes, including prolonged dust/wind storms, flooding and earthquakes. I trained in disaster preparedness when I volunteered for the Red Cross while living in Virginia and learned that a little preparedness can go a long way. This is why I keep a disaster survival kit at the ready, which I’ve lovingly dubbed the Big Pink, since the majority of my supplies reside in a huge pink plastic container.

Survival experts recommend keeping a kit that contains supplies to last for approximately 72 hours. How they arrived at that time frame, I don’t know, but who am I to question the experts! In the aftermath of, say, a large earthquake, it’s a safe bet your home will be without power, water and gas–if it has even remained standing–for a period of time. Your home will be plunged into the pre-industrial age until services are restored. Or you may find that you have to camp outside, as the structure may be too unstable to reside in.

My kit is relatively small since it’s just for me and my two cats, Harold and Mod. So what’s in the Big Pink? I’ve divvied up items so that all first aid/emergency supplies live in one shoebox, and foodstuffs are in another shoebox. Those boxes are tucked into the Big Pink.

Let’s take inventory:

Food Box – Energy gel packets, 1 jar of peanut butter, cans of tuna/cat food, 1 pound of trail mix, ramen noodles, 1 can opener, plastic forks/knives.

First Aid/Emergency/Toiletries Box – Coleman poncho, waterproof matches, toothpaste/brush, baggie with 1st aid supplies such as antibiotic ointment, bandaids, fem sups, Tylenol/Ibuprofen, shampoo, multitool, Ace bandage, deodorant, soap, comb, sling.

Contents of the Big Pink.
Contents of the Big Pink.

Rest of the Big Pink – A bucket and plastic trash bags, change of clothes, shoes, sweater, towel, plastic cups/bowl, Coleman lamp, flashlight, handi-wipes, rolls of toilet paper, 1 purple blanket,  dry kitty kibble, a backpack in the event I have to evacuate and lastly, a copy of Les Stroud’s excellent survival guide, so I’ll be able to figure out what the hell I’m doing if the need arises to break out the Big Pink in an emergency.

The Big Pink – my kit, not the album! – is not perfect but it’ll do for a few days. I plan to add some more food stuffs, like protein bars. Some things that would be worthwhile to add include water purification tablets and cash, since any stores open may not be able to take cards during that time.  Also, I keep my important documents stashed in a portable safe, and I have several days worth of water stored in jugs beneath my kitchen sink.

Me, Harold and Mod are ready for the apocalypse. So long as it only lasts 72 hours!

***My thoughts are with the victims of the Nepal quake today***

Mod guards the Big Pink.
Mod guarding the Big Pink.

Drought by Drought West

Whenever I read about yet another new development being constructed in the Las Vegas valley, I have to suppress the urge to yell and scream and pull my hair, “and where are you going to get water from in five years? Ten years? Twenty years?!”

The Vegas valley gets its potable water from Lake Mead, a man-made creation resulting from the damming of the Colorado river. Lake Mead is presently nearly 200 feet below capacity. It hasn’t been this low since the completion of the Hoover Dam in 1936. Currently, another intake “straw” is being constructed at Lake Mead to reach water at lower depths. This will help transport more water to the region after lake levels have fallen dangerously low but it’s only a bandaid. Without significant, measurable and prolonged rainfall, the drought will worsen and the water in Lake Mead will continue to be consumed by the citizens and tourists of Vegas as it slowly evaporates in the blazing Mojave sun.

Parched clay at Lake Mead. Photo by A. La Canfora.
Parched clay at Lake Mead. Photo by A. La Canfora.

Climate change deniers clamber on to their pedestals and shout that no one knows what the future will be. That we should continue development unabated because everything may change tomorrow. Here’s the problem with that stance…

1. The Facts – The irrefutable scientific data amassed that climate change is happening full force and is contributing to drought conditions in the west.

2. The History – The sophisticated, industrial civilization that was the Anasazi culture of the Southwest was thriving when it suddenly collapsed approximately 1000 years ago. It is generally believed that the Anasazi people were forced to disperse to wetter climes as a result of the Great Drought which brought about repeated crop failures and left their irrigation canals dry.

The western drought has been on-going for nearly a decade. Our society has had time to steel itself and prepare to avert catastrophe. And yet the Vegas region is presently seeing brand new development. Proof that the dollar will win out over facts, history and logic every time.

Islands that were once covered with water stand exposed at Lake Mead. Photo by A. La Canfora
Islands that were once largely covered with water stand exposed at Lake Mead. Photo by A. La Canfora

In his pointed and critical article featured in Slate last summer, meteorologist Eric Holthaus doesn’t hold back in accusing Vegas of sticking its head in the parched sand. From the article:

“Tim Barnett, a scientist at UC-San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, has calculated a 50/50 chance that Lake Mead will reach an unusable state—so-called “dead pool” levels—by 2036, barring aggressive cutbacks in water use.”

2036! That’s 21 years from now that the water in Lake Mead could be in an unusable state! And yet hundreds of new homes and businesses are being constructed in the Vegas valley! Facepalm!

On the left, the Boulder Basin region of Lake Mead in 2012. On the right, the same area in 2015.
On the left, the Boulder Basin region of Lake Mead in 2012. On the right, the same area in 2015. Photos by A. La Canfora.

If any one person has helped to shape this callous, indifferent attitude towards our water crisis, it’s the former general manager of the Las Vegas Valley Water District, Pat Mulroy. In a recent interview given to the Las Vegas Sun newspaper, Mulroy smugly, dismissively “answers” questions put forth to her about the challenges ahead for Vegas. I quote Mulroy; “On paper, we will take a shortage, but in real terms, we won’t be affected by it.”

If by “won’t be affected by it” she means that residents will eventually be forced to uproot and flee to moister environs once their water bill skyrockets to dizzying heights due to the shortage, then yes, we won’t be affected by it.

Where once existed a thriving marina, now only the stones remain. Lake Mead, 2014. Photo by A. La Canfora
Where once existed a thriving marina, now only the stones remain. Lake Mead, 2014. Photo by A. La Canfora

The Sun goes on to ask, “Is there a point where the resources we have can’t sustain the West’s growth?”

Mulroy: “This isn’t a western growth issue. It’s a global growth issue. It’s raw human numbers. So what do you do? Put a moat around Las Vegas and not let anybody cross it? Come on, let’s get real. Do we get to decide who gets to have children and who doesn’t? These become ridiculous questions”

Mulroy’s evasiveness and defensiveness in no way either answers this important question nor helps citizens of the region plan for their future.

Oh and there’s one other aspect of the drought that the Vegas media seems to be avoiding – the almost certain increased frequency of dust storms as the land becomes more arid. Scenes like this one in Arizona will happen with more regularity across the Southwest as the land gets drier and vegetation shrivels up, bringing about more respiratory and lung ailments and an overall lessening in the quality of life.

Dust storm, also known as a haboob, bearing down on Phoenix, AZ. 2o13.

“But Angel, who are you to lecture on this topic? Aren’t you just a song/poetry/art/photo slinger?” That and I’m also a woman who was on the Dean’s List at George Mason University as an anthropology major with a concentration on Southwestern culture. And a person who has held a keen interest in climate/meteorology for decades and has followed the rise of climate change closely, that’s all.

I write this as I sit at my dining room table, in my Henderson, Nevada home on the outskirts of Vegas, occasionally sipping from a glass full of precious Lake Mead. This slow moving catastrophe is bearing down on all of us residents of the Southwest. The unstoppable engine is churning and our cities and inhabitants stand to go the way of the Anasazi. Now is the time to take action, to make our plans while our heads are still well above the drying sand.

Rainbow over Lake Mead. Photo by A. La Canfora
Rainbow over Lake Mead. Photo by A. La Canfora

Further reading – Here’s a study from the Journal of Climate that puts the chances of a multi-decade megadrought in the west at over 50%

The Slick and the Scruffy

Vegas culture sometimes makes me feel self-conscious, for example, whenever I page through the weekly magazine and see photos of the hotties in their slinky dresses, spray-tanned skin and neon teeth. All the gals striking the same pose they learned is flattering to the camera, with one hand on a hip, head tilted just so, with wide toothy smiles and eyes opened as large as they’ll go. Their pneumatic chests mashed into that of their gal pal. And, off to the side, is always a bro in black with short, spiky gelled hair, eyes gleaming like a kid in a candy shop.

I could never be one of those women. I’d feel stupid in a tube dress or with my hair all blown out like Farrah Fawcett. I have never been able to endure a salon for long. I get my hairs cut and styled then split. I can’t imagine sitting there for hours for extensions or a weave or coloring. By the second hour, I’d be reaching for the nearest bottle of nail polish remover, which I’d chug until I was retching and sprawled on the floor, mouth foaming, eyes rolling up into my head.

I wonder what thoughts flicker through the minds of women like this: “OMG, who is texting me now?” “OMG, her hair is sooo lame!” “OMG, he is sooo cute!” (Apparently their every thought must begin with OMG. I don’t know why but it seems right.)

Me, I’m quirky and scruffy and wear little makeup. I shampoo/condition my hair, towel dry it and hope for the best. I wash my hands and clip my fingernails, that is, if I haven’t bitten them to the nub already. I dress like I’m in the Ramones – my uniform, a black t-shirt and Levi’s. But you know what? Gosh darnit, I’m okay with this. There’s room for both the slick and the scruffy in this great, big world.

PS: Sometimes when I see pics of those girls, I’m reminded of this funny bit by Louis CK  – 

Dazzling Glass at the Gaudi Bar

Cookie dough pillars twist and arch towards a rainbow jewel ceiling of glass. The dim light of the casino highlighting the glowing ceiling’s brilliant hues – reds and oranges, blues and greens. The intricate, sinewy designs overhead bubble into flowery glass domes or snake towards sunshine burst panels. You are standing in the Gaudi Bar, smack in the middle of Sunset Station casino in Henderson, Nevada.

The Gaudi Bar, Henderson, NV
The Gaudi Bar, Henderson, NV. Photo by Angel LaCanfora

The Gaudi Bar’s fanciful, undulating ceiling and pillars along with the detailed glass work were inspired by the Spanish architect and glass artist, Antonio Gaudi. Covering 3,000 square feet and weighing in at approximately twelve tons, “each panel is repeated eight times around the bar, although no two are exactly alike,” says Sunset Station’s Director of Facilities, Dave Gildersleeve. “The panels are back-lit using linear and compact fluorescent lighting technology.”

Detail of the custom glass panel.  Photo by Angel LaCanfora.
Detail of the custom glass panel. Photo by Angel LaCanfora.

Designed by Morris and Brown of Savoy Studios, in order to create the glass panels, they were first set into molds in a bent steel framework, before installation. The panels incorporate 30,000 faceted jewels, custom blown medallions and hand-blown light fixtures.

Detail of the Gaudi Bar. Photo by Angel LaCanfora.
Detail of the Gaudi Bar. Photo by Angel LaCanfora.

As a mosaic artist, I was thrilled to discover this treasure exists mere blocks from my home. The Gaudi Bar is a great point of pilgrimage for not only the lover of glass but also for the appreciator of unique architecture.

Entering the Gaudi Bar. Photo courtesy of Sunset Station.
Entering the Gaudi Bar. Photo courtesy of Sunset Station.

The Gaudi Bar at Sunset Station: 1301 W Sunset Rd, Henderson, NV – Open 24/7 and featuring live music on Friday and Saturday nights.

14 Thoughts on Las Vegas

I moved to the Las Vegas valley in April, 2012 and since that time have learned a lot about my adopted region. If you’re considering a move to this wacky part of the world, here are some helpful tips from an insider:

 1.  If you move here without a job lined up and don’t plan to get a job as a bartender or cocktail waitress, then plan on your search taking a couple months. White collar jobs, in particular, are scarce and hard to come by. And Craigslist is not a good place to job hunt in this town, as it’s teeming with shysters. Use Indeed.com or better yet, ask around. This is a small city and everyone knows someone. As a musician, I secured my first job here the old fashioned way: I noticed a sign up in a guitar shop, inquired within and voila!
The Peppermill Lounge - a neon-lit, old school diner. Photo by Angel LaCanfora
The Peppermill Lounge – a neon-lit, old school diner. Photo by Angel LaCanfora
2.  You will absolutely have to have a car to live here. Wide open spaces and huge boulevards abound. Not to mention 120 temperatures. And crazy people.

3.  Car insurance laws in the state of Nevada are ridic, VERY strict and the state takes them seriously! If you go without insurance, even for ONE DAY, you’ll be penalized and fined, as this is closely monitored by the DMV. I learned this the hard way. Don’t be me!

4.  It’s going to get very hot, over 100 degrees, but it is a famous “dry heat,” and is bearable in the shade. Except when it gets around 110 or more. Then you’ll hate everyone and want to die.

5.  Driving in Vegas is SCARY. There are drunks and aimless tourists, oftentimes, one and the same. I’ve lived all over the U.S. and the U.K. and never before had I experienced a wrong-way driver coming full speed at me. Incredibly, this has happened to me now not just once but FOUR times. You have to be on your guard when you drive around here.

6.  Technically, prostitution is illegal in Clark County, home to Vegas and Henderson. But that is a law everyone, including cops, clearly ignore. You will see streetwalkers galore. They will be the scantily clad, skinny young things teetering on heels, not carrying a purse. (I find their purselessness fascinating, and wonder if that isn’t supposed to be some kind of code that signals they are very low maintenance? I don’t know and don’t know that I care to investigate deeply!)

7.  Monsoons. When it rains, it seriously pours, so that our streets flood instantly. The first time I was caught in a flooded area I was stunned. I had walked out from a store to my car in the parking lot. It had only just started raining and within minutes, there were rivers and pools, deep enough to be dangerous, to float a car. You’ll need to plan your day accordingly when rain’s in the forecast or you’ll wind up on some YouTube video, that person on the roof of their car getting air-lifted from high water. Don’t be that person.
And you'll see a LOT of rainbows here in summer. Photo by Angel LaCanfora
And you’ll see a LOT of rainbows here in summer. Photo by Angel LaCanfora

8.  Gambling is taken seriously here! And it’s ubiquitous. You can gamble at the gas station or at drug stores like CVS, as well as casinos. Speaking of which…

9.  There are the BIG casinos of the Strip, your Caesars, your Bellagio and then there are “locals” casinos. These can be tiny, strip mall joints or larger (yet still modest in comparison to Strip casinos) such as the Stations Casino chain. These are the places locals go to gamble to get sweet deals and to avoid the chaos of the Strip.

10.  Everyone knows this is the desert but many people, especially tourists, are taken aback at how cold it can get in winter. It can and does, snow here. We’re at an elevation of 2000 feet, but fret not, for the snow is always light and fleeting. It’s amusing to see a pack of bewildered tourists, shivering on a street corner, in their shorts and tshirts when the thermometer reads 40 degrees. Don’t be those tourists.

11.  Nature abounds! And is my favorite thing about living here. Pick a direction, drive a short distance and you’re either in the mountains, up 8000 feet at Mount Charleston or you’re in Red Rock Canyon or Lake Mead National Recreational Area. But a hidden gem, and my absolute favorite place in Vegas, is the Clark County wetlands and nature preserve, 3000 acres of flora and fauna, of hiking trails, ponds and even roaring rapids! It’s an oasis within the city limits, found adjacent to Sam Boyd stadium, home of the occasional soccer riot.

Welcome to Vegas! No, really! At the CC Wetlands. Photo by Angel LaCanfora.
Welcome to Vegas! No, really! At the CC Wetlands. Photo by Angel LaCanfora.
12.  Rent is cheap but utilities and food are not. Vegas is a kind of desert island, meaning food and goods are schlepped in from far away and electricity and water are precious resources. I recently paid my electricity bill for my modest-sized condo and for two summer months, it was $234! Ouch!

13.  Vegas is still working at shedding its old image of kitsch and gangsters and tacky everything. Hence the arrival of chic, hipster-friendly hang outs such as the Downtown Container Park and the Linq (featuring the Holy Roller ferris wheel and the Brooklyn Bowl). I love these places, which would feel right at home in Santa Monica or any forward-thinking, progressive city. More of these kinds of places are in the works, as the current King of Vegas, Zappos founder Tony Hsieh, is the young visionary at the helm of revitalizing downtown. More of this, please, thanks.

The Downtown Container Park. Just as fun as it looks. Photo by Angel LaCanfora.
The Downtown Container Park. Just as fun as it looks. Photo by Angel LaCanfora.
14.  Lastly, know that if you move to Vegas, you will be living in a world class entertainment capital. Music, movies, restaurants, comedy, whatever your poison, is available here 24/7. Why, you might even catch yours truly performing some night, singing my brand of gentle and oft-times humorous folk-pop. Please do drop by!