What a long, strange Strip


What a long, strange Strip it was.

As I zipped through the curvy Hoover Dam highway for perhaps the final time almost five years ago, I didn't think I'd miss what I was leaving behind: a nearly nine-year investment in Las Vegas.

So I was surprised when I found myself fondly recalling my former home after watching the new Steve Carrell-Jim Carrey comedy, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, about feuding Las Vegas magicians.

Home to nearly 2 million metro residents, Las Vegas is similar to most major cities with its share of traffic congestion and endless road projects, money-strapped schools, high crime rates, and an endless parade of political clowns.

But Las Vegas offers perks that few — if any — other places can match.

Like living only a few blocks from the gated white mansion of Roy Horn of Siegfried & Roy, complete with a menagerie of animals on that property that rouse neighbors daily in the early morning with all sorts of howls, roars, and other noises. Or reveling in the fashion disasters across the street from the quick-wedding chapels on Valentine's Day, or the catty joy of people watching on just about any night on The Strip. What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but that doesn't mean Las Vegans aren't going to laugh amongst themselves.

Even better than the free entertainment in Las Vegas, for me at least, was covering the paid entertainment.

An interview with a grumpy Robert Goulet led to a voicemail apology, a delivery of cookies to my desk, and inclusion on his Christmas card list, while a random profile of a local comic resulted in a random phone call of praise from Pat "Mr. Miyagi" Morita. Goulet and Morita, incidentally, were both Las Vegas residents who also died last decade.

I interviewed Anthony Zuiker, creator of the CBS drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and its spin-offs, just after his show broke big for the network. We jumped in his brand-new Porsche convertible, top down, and he drove me to the coffee shop where he created and developed CSI and its characters. Despite the sudden fame and money, the Las Vegas native still lived in his modest two-story home with his wife and children and had no plans to relocate them to Los Angeles.

There was an interview with the late, great jazz saxophonist Sam Butera, a bear of a man who seemed grateful just to be remembered, and beating Real World: Las Vegas cast member Trishelle Cannatella in a game of pool during downtime in our interview (she scratched on the break).

While Las Vegas provided access to a lot of stars, my favorite professional memory isn't about a celebrity, but rather someone with celebrity aspirations: singer-dancer-entertainer Michael La Rocca.

La Rocca had two shows in an off-Strip hotel-casino, and my editor wanted to know what they were like and who was going to see them. Turns out, almost no one. On that night an older gentleman and I were the only souls in this darkly lit 100-seat showroom, save a two-man crew for sound and lights.

Prior to the show La Rocca warned me about the lack of an audience, but insisted he didn't mind performing to almost no one. Sure enough, he bounded onstage and delivered a song like he had three minutes to live, all to silent applause.

I didn't clap because I was on assignment, and neither did the older gentleman.

It can't get any worse, I thought. Then La Rocca told the older patron, "It's OK to applaud."

"I can't," replied the man, as he held up his right hand as evidence. It was a club.

"Well, you can bang on the table with your other hand, can't you?" La Rocca said. The man said yes and began to slam his left hand on the table.

And that's how it went through the next painful hour, the man banging on the table in appreciation of La Rocca after each routine.

Truthfully, I wanted to feel bad for La Rocca, but he was so positive about his opportunity to perform in Las Vegas, such as it was, that I couldn't. He just won me over.

I can say the same thing about Las Vegas ... and it only took me five years and 2,000 miles to do it.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.