Elepent http://www.elepent.com An independent imprint Mon, 11 Nov 2013 16:58:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.10 Summer/Fall ’10 update http://www.elepent.com/2010/09/summerfall-10-update/ Wed, 08 Sep 2010 23:37:13 +0000 http://www.elepent.com/?p=1024 Have we dropped off the face of the earth?  No, but we dropped off of the freeways for a while.  Family obligations kept us in Michigan for most of the spring and summer.  While we were there, Lex did several photo shoots, Emmy kept up with car writing, and we both upgraded our phones.  Some much-needed repairs were made to the Incorrigible, and the Haybaler’s bumper was finally reinstalled.  Oh, and we picked up a rusty, ratty little Suzuki Sidekick, which is currently in storage.

Some random photos:

Lexie in the NYC subway, in April.

Emmy enjoying some hard-earned Cupcake Time, in Ann Arbor.

In July, Emmy was called upon to chop up a junk car with a SawZAll.

In August, we attended an impromptu concert in a friend's basement.

We even organized a steampunk event at City Club! Those who attended seemed to enjoy it.

Mushroom, of course, remained unperturbed through it all.

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Chrysalis. http://www.elepent.com/2010/03/chrysalis/ http://www.elepent.com/2010/03/chrysalis/#comments Tue, 23 Mar 2010 17:38:18 +0000 http://www.elepent.com/?p=1016 Okay, so here’s the story:  while generally entertaining to write, this travel blog is also time-consuming and in the end, not as focused as I’d like for it to be.  Lexie and I are walking a number of different paths these days, writing-wise, and the Elepent blog is splitting the lanes between them, siphoning off energy that would be better channeled into different places.

So there’s about to be some change.  First off, there won’t be much in the way of new posts for a while.  We are off the road for the moment, the Incorrigible temporarily mothballed.  With luck, that means that this time will prove to be a cocoon before the butterfly stage, but there’s not much point in going on and on about the boring chrysalis part, especially if things don’t pan out.

That sounds kind of dire, but it isn’t, not really.

Over time, you’ll see this site morph gradually into a landing page that’ll serve as the gateway to a whole bunch of different places.  My fiction website, named Looking for Strange, is one of those places, and at that site you’ll be able to read the club reports and some of the more personal ramblings that are generated as we roam, as well as my fiction.  Over at my automotive writing site, recently redubbed Fuel Infection, you’ll find just about everything that has anything to do with things that go:  museum reports, car-spotter collections, and of course an archive of new-car reviews going back over a decade.  Lexie’s photography is also becoming more accessible, so you’ll see a bridge to that particular kingdom arising from here as well.

The ongoing chronicle of our adventures is fun, but there are a great many people doing a great many more interesting things out here in Internet-land.  What Lex and I are proud of is our art, and our work, and we’ve been unhappy that it’s taking a back seat to pictures of the cat and long-winded stories about ghost towns.  We’ve been looking for a way to combine all of these things under a single umbrella, while making it easier for you (that is, our faithful readers) to focus on what you’re interested in seeing.

Redirecting this travel blog will also enable me to spend more time generating directed content; automotive and product reviews, fiction and editorial comment.  Look at it this way:  Elepent served as a window into our lives:  now it’s expanding to become a door so you can come right inside and pick a room to hang out in.

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Das Bunker: Los Angeles, CA http://www.elepent.com/2010/02/das-bunker-los-angeles-ca/ http://www.elepent.com/2010/02/das-bunker-los-angeles-ca/#comments Thu, 11 Feb 2010 18:05:20 +0000 http://www.elepent.com/?p=995 Das Bunker Flyer

Das Bunker is one of those ground-zero scenes, the kind of club that everyone has heard of. It’s been a fixture of the LA scene for over a decade, in fact, hosting bands like VNV Nation, Combichrist and Covenant, who played just a week before we arrived.  So, were we intimidated? A little. Excited mostly, though, since we’ve heard about the place and hoped that it would live up to its hype.

Did it?

Yeah, it did, well enough.

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The club resides in a sizeable building (the Catch One, on Pico Boulevard), and you enter and go immediately through a metal detector and then straight upstairs. The door people are friendly, and the floor is glossy black. To your left is a monster-sized dance floor, with a low-ish ceiling, numerous small, well-padded alcoves and two stages. Two of the alcoves have mini-stages and stripper poles, and the lighting is strongly colored in the center with very, very dark corners. Right of the entry stairs, you’ve got a large, open bar area.  Das Bunker was far from empty, but its open spaces are large enough that you never feel claustrophobic.

Downstairs are the “Retro Room,” “Noise Room” and smoking patio. The “Retro Room” is where we spent most of the night, and its dance floor (about a third the size of the one upstairs and still bigger than many) is crammed in next to a bar with seating areas on the landing up above and off to the side. A brace of PCs along the wall in the sitting area means you can play solitaire, if you really want to take the antisocial thing a bit too far. In the Retro Room, we heard “Decomposed,” “Godlike,” “Soylent Green,” “Deutschmaschine” (twice), “Corporate Slave,” “So What,” “Another World” and “O Fortuna.” The Retro Room also has a projection unit on the wall that shows movies–and sometimes displays the song that’s being spun. Genius! On the upstairs dance floor, the music trended more toward newer fare, like “Stage 2” by X-Rx.

Head back through the maze of little hallways from the Retro Room and you’ll find a mist-filled “Noise Room” which is full of powernoise and old war movies projected on the wall.

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Turn the other way, and you’ll find the smoking patio, which is crowded and, well, a smoking patio. But! There’s also a hot dog cart on the smoking patio. So it’s actually a smoking and hot dog patio. Once again, genius!

The crowd at Das Bunker is friendly, too. Whether this says something about the club itself, or just that people from LA are always conscious that they’re networking when it comes to meeting people they don’t know remains to be decided, but it made for some pleasant talking to people. People-watching at Das Bunker is much like a gothic subculture roll call. Lexie turned out to be one of only two steamygoths, and Emmy seemed to be the only perkygoth in residence–Das Bunker is very monochromatic black, so my bright red was not Of The Normal but did not appear to hurt my fitting in either. There were a few cybers, a lot of fetishgear and rivethead types, a bunch of ’80s-style glamgoths and classic old-school goths, and even a smattering of Japanese-style gothkids. There didn’t seem to be any lolis, though; it turns out we visited Das Bunker on a night when LA’s lolitas were off at another special event.  Unlike some places that attract a wide range of the scene’s sub-fashions, there wasn’t any snobbery between groups that we noticed.  It’s a good place.

Das Bunker hosts many concerts as well; check out the website for a schedule and directions.

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Car-guy’s paradise: Los Angeles, CA http://www.elepent.com/2010/01/car-guys-paradise-los-angeles-ca/ http://www.elepent.com/2010/01/car-guys-paradise-los-angeles-ca/#comments Tue, 19 Jan 2010 23:07:27 +0000 http://www.elepent.com/?p=990 peterson-13

Hot Wheels display at the Petersen. Yes, they're mounted on that awesome orange plastic track!

Of course, Los Angeles is a car-guy’s paradise.  The weather’s friendly to old vehicles, and there are twisty mountain roads and speedy freeways and slow-n-low cruising spots within an hour of one another.  The streets are filled with equal numbers of everyday exotics and awesomely-preserved daily drivers, and if I tried to shoot them all we never would’ve gotten anywhere.  This is one of the few places where you’ll see a Maserati Quattroporte or Lamborghini Gallardo in the wild, however.  It’s definitely one of the few places where you’ll see those cars sharing space at the traffic light with original Austin Minis and Volkswagen Microbuses.  Mercedes is a common nameplate in the area, both old and new.

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We visited two wonderful automotive attractions while we were in town as well.  The Petersen Automotive Museum you may have heard of.  Located in downtown Los Angeles, this museum of American (and especially California) car culture displays vehicles in elaborate dioramas that help to put things into context in a way that most car museums don’t bother with.

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The GM showroom from 1939 doesn’t just have a brace of contemporary products; it includes the whole Art Deco showroom complete with advertising, sales desk and customers, the picture windows and front door, and a sidewalk out front with some older vehicles parked outside.  Other dioramas show a hot rod shop, a design studio and a typical 1960s suburban garage, including the Studebaker Lark Wagonaire, scooter for bopping around town and luggage on the garage shelves.

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The Petersen also features special exhibits in its upstairs galleries.  The current crop includes a Hot Wheels retrospective, a selection of alternative-power cars, a Hollywood Gallery of movie cars, and the amusing “What Were They Thinking?” display of failed and wrong-headed automotive anomalies through the years, which ran through late September.

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This exhibit ranges from commonly-known failures like the Edsel and AMC Pacer to one-offs you’ve probably never heard of, like the 1908 Scripps-Booth two-wheeler and the 1957 Liberty Mutual Survival Car.  A couple of cars were familiar, too:  the Survival Car was on loan from the Henry Ford Museum, and the 1932 Helicron and 1947 Gregory are cars that we’ve seen multiple times at the Lane Motor Museum.  I wonder if Jeff Lane drove his Helicron all the way to California?

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The Petersen Museum is right downtown, on Wilshire Boulevard.  Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for seniors and students.  Don’t forget to cruise around the Petersen’s parking garage, too.

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There are vehicles on exhibit, like the Vagabond–the first fifth-wheel travel trailer, complete with purpose-built tow vehicle–and there are usually a few interesting guests as well.

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We found a derelict ’58 Buick and an MGA parked among the ordinary commuters in the garage (the Buick looks like it might be a permanent resident, actually).

Less well known, but equally cool, is the Mercedes Classic Center down in Irvine.  The Classic Center is tucked away in a small industrial complex, but for Mercedes owners, enthusiasts, and car people of all stripes it’s a must-see.  This unassuming building is like Mary Poppins’ bag for Mercedes-Benz vehicles.  If you’ve got a Mercedes of any vintage, you can get any factory part you need from the Classic Center–literally.  They’ll even restore your old Benz to its original specifications.  Since we’ve got a classic Mercedes in storage back in Michigan, this place was of great interest to us.

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The Classic Center acts much like a dealer with an unusually extensive service department.  They’ll do everything from routine maintenance to ground-up rebuilds.

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Parts for anything Mercedes has ever built can be found, and those that aren’t on hand either in the Classic Center’s massive parts department or in Germany can be reproduced, as the Classic Center has access to the original designs and specifications for all of Mercedes’ cars.  “We can get anything for anything,” says Mike Kunz, manager of the Classic Center.

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The focus is on authenticity, and the Classic Center keeps massive stores of OEM hose clamps and bolts on hand, never making do with off-the-shelf parts from an auto parts store.  Some parts have been upgraded–old horsehair seat cushions, for instance, are now made with a material that looks and feels the same but is produced from ground coconut shells for a more durable and environmentally-friendly product.  Parts can be had in one day from the Classic Center, and three days in the rare event that they have to be ordered from Germany.

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The Classic Center’s activities are split mainly between parts sales and restoration, but there’s also a mini-museum out front, and there are a few cars on sale as well.

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A garage off of the main showroom features cars representing most of the marque’s history, displayed on two-tier vehicle lifts.  Some of the cars for sale have been restored by the Classic Center, and others are consignment vehicles; either way, it makes for an interesting showroom.  Vehicles are also provided for concours events.

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We lucked into a quick tour of the facilities, where several restoration and repair projects were ongoing.  The Classic Center has about nine “restoration specialists” on staff, and we saw a variety of vehicles getting the treatment, from a 600 Pullman in for extensive hydraulic repairs to a 1961 330D Adenauer in the midst of a two-year full restoration.  MercCC-17

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Not far from it was a Pontoon sedan that was also getting the same treatment; the Classic Center will do a back-to-original restoration on any Mercedes, not just the rare or special vehicles.   It’s not inexpensive, of course:  a ground-up restoration from the Classic Center carries a six-figure price tag.

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Most of the center’s “patients” are Mercedes products from the 1950s and ’60s, but we saw everything from a 190 convertible to a fully restored 280SE 3.5 on the shop floor.
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The yellow SLK/G-Class hybrid that circumnavigated the globe almost a decade ago was even hiding in a corner (it’s been there since at least 2006 in fact), awaiting repairs before joining the Classic Center’s museum.

The Mercedes Classic Center is a worthwhile stop, whether you’ve got a Mercedes in your garage or not.  It’s located on Whatney Street in Irvine, and the showroom is open to the public.

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Glitz and glamour and traffic: Los Angeles, CA http://www.elepent.com/2010/01/glitz-and-glamour-and-traffic-los-angeles-ca/ http://www.elepent.com/2010/01/glitz-and-glamour-and-traffic-los-angeles-ca/#comments Fri, 15 Jan 2010 19:15:50 +0000 http://www.elepent.com/?p=988 ESI-1

From Las Vegas, we made a week-long field trip to Los Angeles, the better to drive some new cars and meet some models for photo shoots.  We found a secret place to hide the Incorrigible in Long Beach for a week of dry-camping, and set about exploring the madness that is L.A.  

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Okay, maybe it's not that secret. We got permission from one of my press car suppliers to take up space in their lot for a week. ALWAYS ask permission before dry-camping!

“Madness” is the right word, too.  This massive megalopolis is made even more massive by the traffic, which you’ve probably heard of but cannot fully comprehend until you’ve experienced it.  Being on a six-lane freeway is an intimidating thing:  being on a six-lane freeway that’s at a dead stop in both directions because of sheer congestion is downright horrifying.  This is the first time I’ve been to a large city where the carpool lane makes a significant difference in the speed of travel; it’s frequently the only one moving.  I love cars, but there are far, far too many of them in Los Angeles.  The sky is a sickly yellow-brown, and it’s easy to see why California’s so concerned about automotive emissions.

It’s also not hard to see why so many people have crammed themselves into this relatively small area.  The weather is gorgeous, the scenery (when not obscured by urban sprawl) is gorgeous, and of course there’s the Pacific Ocean right next door.  While not our idea of paradise, it seems like a decent enough place to live.  Except for the traffic.  And the smog.  And the high cost of living.

Lexie and I did some of the usual tourist things.  We went over to Hollywood to check out the Walk of Fame, and stepped on some of our favorite luminaries.  We cruised past Graumann’s Chinese Theater and spotted the numerous character actors posing for photos–both Spidermen, a Stormtrooper, Gene Simmons, Captain America, Batman, a creepily tall Yoda and a raunchy SpongeBob all made appearances.  We went to the movies, because the movie theaters are much cooler in the LA area.  (In case you were curious, we saw Where the Wild Things Are, and the matinee was crazy expensive but worth it)  We even visited the Frederick’s of Hollywood anchor store, because, well, it’s there.  We had amazing shakes and burgers at slick little place in Irvine called Ruby’s Diner.

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Having done that, we spent some time at Venice Beach as well.  We had a perfectly Gothic day at the beach, thanks to the heavy mist and fog that obscured the sky the entire time we were there, and cut visibility drastically. That was okay, though; the crowds were smaller than usual.  I was happy to see that Small World Books is still there.  I visited the place almost 20 years ago. Back then it was a crusty little used bookstore; nowadays it’s a decent independent bookshop.

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The ocean was riled up, but the breakers were all but invisible in the soft, silvery light and the wow-this-place-is-real kookiness of Venice Beach was muted.  This didn’t stop us from seeing real-live surfer dudes, crustypunks and aged hippies milling through the crowd, of course.  Also noted were a surprising number of horrifyingly derelict RVs (most dating to the late 1970s and early 1980s, many with missing windows and gaping holes in the fiberglass) that seem to be the dwellings of full-time surfers and beach bums.  The approach to Venice Beach was all but lined with them, and there were half a dozen in the public parking lot, awaiting their owners’ return from the surf.  If they were out there, we couldn’t see them, but we played on the beach for an hour or two anyway.

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The beach is filled with seagulls, pigeons, and birds that look suspiciously like the offspring of seagulls and pigeons. Is that possible?

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sKizoFrenia @ the KRave Lounge, Las Vegas NV http://www.elepent.com/2010/01/skizofrenia-the-krave-lounge-las-vegas-nv/ http://www.elepent.com/2010/01/skizofrenia-the-krave-lounge-las-vegas-nv/#comments Fri, 15 Jan 2010 18:34:28 +0000 http://www.elepent.com/?p=986 4X6-Skizo-Front3

Of course, we can’t go to a major city without seeking out its goth club.  Las Vegas’ is called sKizoFrenia, and it’s in the Harmon Theater which is part of the Planet Hollywood casino/hotel shopcenter (which used to be the Aladdin).  The approach to the club is kind of annoying; because it’s basically right on the Strip, one has to park in the casino’s lot, which then opens out into the PH Shops. So, you essentially have to walk through a mall in your club gear, to get outside, to go down the block to the door. Walking through a mall in full club gear is fun on some days, but never something one should be forced to do. It’s not that we don’t like looking this way, but the stares are somehow more open and more intense when you’re in The Mall, and before you’ve gone a hundred yards you want to elbow somebody in the face and scream, “Shake your head, boy, your eyes are stuck!” But meh, there are worse things to endure.

Once you brave the normal-people gauntlet, however, the Harmon Theater is an inviting place, situated right next to a flamboyant gay bar.  A dark entryway opens out into a playground with high ceilings and red curtains on the walls.  Square velvet benches line one wall across from the curved bar which wraps around to the left, framing the dance floor.  There’s a small stage on the right, and while we were there it sported pair of go-go dancers (one male, one female) up on pedestals.  SkizoFrenia has a good feeling and I couldn’t wait to get out onto the smallish dance floor.

The go-go dancers were very stompy, which was a shame because there was not much stompy stuff. They spun TSWFYU and Sparrows & Nightingales and Days of Swine & Roses and Reptile (not the NIN one, the one by The Church) and after that it kind of petered out. Lexie got mistaken for her friend Mija, who currently lives in San Diego, which was bizarre in a small-world kind of way as we ended up visiting Mija less  than a week later.

Apparently drinks are expensive in Las Vegas. Lexie remained livid about the $3 PBRs for a solid week. That, and it was hot, and the music tapered off into interesting but not-really-danceable goffy stuff, so we decided to go early. As we were headed out, a guy met us out on the sidewalk and asked what it would have taken for us to stay longer. We said, “More stompy stuff.”

As it turned out, we had met Rust Ryu, who introduced himself as the head DJ for sKizoFrenia, and we all chatted on the sidewalk for a while.  Later, I was able to chat via email with him about the Las Vegas scene:

1. Can you give me a quick rundown of how you ended up in Las Vegas?

Well, I moved from D.C. to Richmond, VA, to attend college, where I ended up in a relationship with a fellow stage hand. She ended up landing a free ride at UNLV for graduate degree. I went on tour as a stage-manager.  We hit one or two rough spots while I was on the road so when I got back I told her I was moving to the desert; if she went with me we would go to Vegas, and if she decided to go on her own I would head to Phoenix.  We ended up here!  She has since moved back to VA, but I am still here, till I head to NoLa.

2. Given the “party” nature of Las Vegas, it’s surprising that the scene isn’t bigger.  Why do you think that is?  Are Las Vegas’ goths hiding, or are there just not that many of them?

First, let me say that no matter how much I make it sound like a numbers game, it is about the community. However to the bars that host our nights, it boils down to cash in the till and the quality of behavior from the patrons.

In reality, we have about 400 goths and rivets and noise heads in Vegas, of which only about 100-200 are active in the club community due to time or money.

I really feel the detriment to the Las Vegas goth industrial scene and frankly all underground or sub-culture scene is the “party” nature of Vegas itself. Las Vegas’ main goal is to sell entertainment–be it clubs or food or gambling–to as many people as possible, with the simplest product possible. So Vegas caters completely to the mainstream and their dollars. The industry is the casinos and what they hire are people that either are mainstream or can blend into it. So the majority of people that move here, move here for the tourist industry and fit the mold. Additionally, this is a 24 hour city, and most of the goths I know are more night owls than early birds.  A lot of us end up on night shifts. So scheduling a night that can be successful numbers-wise is that much more difficult.

The venues want people in the door, so there is less emphasis placed on maintaining the dance floor as there is rotating folks out to get people to the bar.  Slave of the Muse productions does great quarterly or so events that are tied in to the art community but due to the fact that the nights are looked at as one-offs, attendance and bar sales are even more vital to their survival.

The bars and clubs, with a few exceptions, really don’t want to cater to 100-300 people when they can cater to over 1000 people coming through the door that want to here Lady Gaga and Kanye.

Ads in the local free papers are scaled to what the casinos can afford so advertising nights in those is out–it is honestly cheaper in Vegas to get radio spots than to get an ad for a small night. Mostly of the scene’s advertising is electronic, so if you aren’t on any of the friends lists or new to town it can be a touch more difficult to find out what is going on.

With the casinos and their clubs being such big liquor buyers, we can’t get sponsorship for our nights, because it isn’t worth it to the distributors’ advertising departments. This affects the number of bands we can get out here.  Most bands see a booking from Vegas and start seeing the money that is in Vegas but not within the grasp of our community. There are exceptions: Combichrist, Terrorfakt, C/A/T, Voltaire and others that have played places other than the House of Blues for reasonable prices, scaled to our expected turnouts. But for the most part we don’t get enough live music through Vegas to keep the scene inspired about the music and introduced to things they might not have heard before. I really feel live music is vital for keeping the energy of the scene at a decent and interesting level and the money problems and a few well known booking debacles have kept live music at a minimum in Vegas.

The other problem is Vegas’ lack of any good cultural programs. This city isn’t known for our arts, we don’t get many artists moving here, our colleges don’t have the best art programs and we have only one magnet school for the arts. Without culture there can be no sub-culture.  Our monthly art event downtown is growing but struggling. We have many talented artists who would not be fighting to pay the rent as much in other cities. Most of our musicians that are talented end up in cover bands to pay the bills or have problems scheduling rehearsals due to the 24 hour table that people get scheduled on for work.

Also, our BDSM/Fetish scene is so wrapped up in its own survival as a thriving community with the
various laws they have to deal with that we don’t get much support or cross over from them.

So there you have it, those are the main items that stifle the Vegas goth industrial community and make events an uphill battle for the promoters and DJs alike. We have our share of drama, maybe a hair more than other cites, due to the lack of cultural things or places that the scene as a whole can really get interested in but I really don’t think that is what keeps the lid on our community.

3. What’s popular in the past few months, request-wise? What are people always asking to hear?

And One, Combichrist, and The Cure are always good dance floor. We pretty much get the floor with the same club staples most other cities play as well as a few tracks like A Perfect Circle’s “Counting bodies like sheep to the rhythm of war-drums” that might not fly in other cities. The Vegas crowd really does change in what they want to hear every week it is very dependent on how everyone’s week has been, and the balance of which circles of friends are out and when

4. Are the gogo dancers a regular feature, or were they there for a special occasion?

sKizoFrenia at the KRave Lounge is really the one that is avid about having go-gos every week. It is just something kinda fun and it is Vegas and in some cases really adds to the vibe when we can’t do BDSM demos or other things that many other cities can legally get away with.

5. What’s the origin of your “Rust Ryu” handle?

It is a little cheesy but it is from a blurb at the beginning of a chapter in a fiction book that I can’t remember the name of. The preface of the chapter was “When cities of steel fall into dust, dragons will rise from the rust.” It really struck a chord with me and I am a huge fan of the Japanese aesthetic, so I took up the handle of Rust Ryu around 1997. I went through a bunch of previous handles including some very GAF and Hax00r ones.

sKizoFrenia takes place weekly, and even though the Las Vegas scene has its uphill battles, it’s an awesome night out.  Get the details at http://www.myspace.com/skizofrenialv.

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Car spotting in Las Vegas http://www.elepent.com/2010/01/car-spotting-in-las-vegas/ http://www.elepent.com/2010/01/car-spotting-in-las-vegas/#comments Fri, 15 Jan 2010 18:09:15 +0000 http://www.elepent.com/?p=982 minetour-5

This mid-1950s Internationl "Metro" van was so cute and charming I wanted to find the owner and see if I could buy it.

The Southwest is a car-spotter’s paradise.  Not only does the dry climate preserve old autos, but because they last longer, there are more old cars to see just running around.  Las Vegas and the surrounding area yielded a bumper crop, no pun intended. First off, out at the Nelson ghost town, there were a number of cars just sitting out in the desert, as old cars are wont to do.

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1953 Chevrolet

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Heavy-duty '52-53 Chevrolet, ready to work.

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1952 Ford

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Did some Burner leave his wing-hood International bus in Nelson?

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'47-48 Chevrolet, I think. I don't know what the bush is.

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Very cool Ford bus, I want to say it's a 1953 but haven't checked.

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In 1950, Chrysler's boast was that a man could drive his Chrysler without taking off his hat.

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The world's oldest 1941 Plymouth?

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'52-53 Chevy 3500 dually

At the shop where the Haybaler had its bad day, there were  a number of interesting wheels as well.

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The dry climate's been good to this Dodge D50.

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1970-ish Chevy Blazer lowrider.

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'57 Chevy--not a Bel Air, though, this is a Two Ten.

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'63 Thunderbird

And, of course, there were a few cars just roaming out in the wild in Las Vegas, as well.  Go, cameraphone!

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1972 Chevrolet

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1973 Ford Torino fastback at Target. Yes, it's purple. I love you, purple Torino!

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1967 Ford

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Holy Chrysler Cordoba, Batman!

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Why do I seem to run into Studebakers, everywhere I go?

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Vehicle maintenance and bawdy juggling http://www.elepent.com/2010/01/vehicle-maintenance-and-bawdy-juggling/ http://www.elepent.com/2010/01/vehicle-maintenance-and-bawdy-juggling/#comments Fri, 15 Jan 2010 16:47:03 +0000 http://www.elepent.com/?p=961 towbar-1

Preparing the Crimson Haybaler for front-line duty was simple; part of the reason we chose the Ranger was its simplicity.  It was inexpensive because TLC was needed, however.  I installed a new starter and fuel pump and the little truck runs just fine now, albeit a bit loudly and not quite so prettily, thanks to a missing exhaust and the guerilla modifications we had to make in order to tow it (see below).  We’ll set about turning it into the Ultimate Toad in the coming months.

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Yeah, I know. It's horrible. Don't worry, the bumper's in back.

So, with the Haybaler running reliably, it needs front tires before our Los Angeles adventure, if possible. I tootled to a shop in Las Vegas to see what a pair of used tires would cost.

If you’ve never bought used tires, it goes kind of like this: you pull up and ask for the size, they bring a tire out to see if it’s in good enough shape for you, and then when you agree on a price they put it on. Real simple. Done it dozens of times.

So, you can imagine my surprise when, after waiting for a couple of minutes and chatting with a guy trying to upsell me a windshield (the Haybaler’s ‘shield is cracked), I realize that they’ve got the truck jacked up with both front tires off and in fact, there’s a little fireplug-shaped guy putting the right wheel back on with a new tire.

This seems a bit forward–I mean, bugger, I don’t even know what they’re going to charge me. It’s kind of like inviting someone over for coffee and having them rush right past you into the bedroom and get naked before you can pour both cups. So I drift over there, and notice that on top of this forward behavior, the tire is the wrong size. It fits, but it’s not the same size as the tires in the back, and since the Haybaler is not a drag racer, I’d like all four tires to be the same size, thanks.

I tap Fireplug Guy on the shoulder and point this out. He says they don’t have a tire in the size I was looking for.  Rather than asking why they stuck the wrong-size tire on anyway, I say “I’d rather not buy the wrong-size tire.”  Just in case he doesn’t speak a lot of English, I also make a specifically negatory no good hand motion while indicating the tire. Fireplug Guy nods, grabs his air gun, zips the lug nuts on, then goes away, presumably to start on the next tire.

This is not confidence-inspiring. I go and find the guy who was upselling me windshields, presuming he’s the equivalent of an assistant manager, and explain the issue to him. I don’t want tires that are not the same size as the rear tires. They don’t have the right size tires. I’m sorry for the inconvenience, but I don’t want them and he shouldn’t have put it on before asking me, or telling me the price. “He didn’t tell you the price?” Upsell Guy says. I shake my head. He goes off to have a conference with Fireplug guy, then returns to ask if I won’t consider buying the tires, because they’re no that different. I explain that I don’t have enough money to be buying tires I don’t want, which is true. No, not even at a discount. I apologize again for being a pain in the ass, but again: see the Usual Procedure. It’s done that way to avoid situations like this.

So Fireplug Guy comes back, looking slightly miffed, and starts to remove the tire he just put on. He takes of four lug nuts, fools with the fifth, then offers me an even bigger discount. I’m tempted, but these people have not earned our business today. So I say no. Fireplug Guy messes around with the last lug nut some more, then wanders off, leaving it there.

Do you see where this is going? Dude cross-threaded the lugnut with the air gun. This means that half of the threads inside the lug are destroyed, and it will spin, but it won’t come off. I also realize this means that Fireplug Guy clearly realized this and was trying to sell me the tire at the last minute so I’d drive off with it like that and probably not realize until the next time I tried to remove the wheel, at which point it would be No Longer Demonstrably His Fault. Bad form, tire-shop guy.  Very bad form.  I take a deep breath and wait to see what they’re going to do next.

What they do, is bring out a gigantic breaker bar and use it to twist the wheel against the studs in an effort to jam the lug nut into contact so it will come off. Eventually this involves almost the whole tire shop staff: Fireplug Guy, Skinny Kid, Fireplug Two, Upsell Guy, Super-Buff Dude and The Man in the Yellow Hat, who appears to be the manager, or possibly a king because he’s the only one who hasn’t got shit (okay, it’s really brakedust and tire grease) all over him. I am very uncertain that this twisting is a good thing for the aluminum wheel, but I keep my mouth shut for the moment. I know that a Volvo aluminum wheel would be deformed beyond usefulness by that kind of abuse, but then Volvo wheels are kind of weak. Ford wheels may be stronger.

It doesn’t matter anyway. After about an hour (in the hot Las Vegas sun) they give up, and the Man in the Yellow Hat explains the issue to me, that the lug is jammed, and that I need to drive around to the back to their muffler shop, where they’ll use the welding torch to heat it up so they can get it off. “It’s no problem,” he says. “We’ll take care of it.” Skinny Kid comes over and puts the other lug nuts back on.

Apart from eating up a large chunk of my Saturday, it’s okay, I suppose. I shrug and go along with it.  I wander around a bit to look at the other cars behind the shop (’57 Chevy Two Ten, ’63 Thunderbird, ’71 Blazer, that sort of thing–you’ll see them later, promise), while a guy who looks just like Al Molina as Satipo in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” works on the truck a little. Then he stops, having removed only one lug nut, and has the female back-of-the-shop manager tell me that I need a new brake disc, because all of the lug nuts but one are now jammed.

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I’m surprised by my ability to remain calm.  I explain that all of the lug nuts were fine before I pulled into this lot, and that The Man in The Yellow Hat sent us back here to have the one that Fireplug Guy damaged heated so it can be removed. She says she doesn’t know anything about that, we just need a new brake disc and they can’t do anything. Up front is a separate shop, she tries to explain.

So I go and get The Man in The Yellow Hat, who very patiently comes to the back and confers with the folks there. While he is there, Satipo and a Hispanic Jack Black go to work on the Haybaler yet again, this time breaking off two of the studs, one after the other. This leaves one jammed lug nut and the original damaged one still in place. My little truck is not having a good day. The Man in The Yellow Hat watches this calmly, then tells me not to worry, they’ll take care of it. The BackShop Manager gets some information from me about the truck, then goes and gets on the phone. Satipo explains to me that they’re going to use the welding torch to cut the lug nuts off, and that it will scorch the aluminum wheel, but that the blackening should scrub off with soap and water; he wants me to know before they start, so I don’t wig out. I tell him that’s cool, I understand.

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It has now been two and a half hours. I wander over next door to the party store to get something to drink and a Hostess pie, so I don’t swoon at an inopportune moment. When I return, the wheel has been removed. Two of the Haybaler’s wheel studs are gone completely; the ones that broke off. Two are melted into interesting shapes that will never again take a lug nut, and there are gobbets of metal all over the floor. Satipo and Jack Black are having lunch. I notice that they have about thirty license plates tacked to the wall all around the manager’s booth, mostly Nevada plates, with a couple of Californias, an Oregon, a Wyoming and an Alaska as well. I remember that there’s an old Michigan plate in the back of the truck that I was scrapping, and I take it out and give it to the BackShop Manager, who’s happy to have it though she doesn’t seem to be certain where exactly “Michigan” might be.

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After a few more minutes, an auto parts store delivery truck arrives with a new brake rotor, which is quickly installed, the bearing repacked (I’m watching them carefully at this point, even though it’s rude) and the wheel reassembled. And that’s that, they say, I’m all set. There is no mention of paying for the brake rotor (which I had no intention of paying for anyway) or the new lug nuts (ditto), or even the tire (which, arguably, I would have paid for at that point because the alternative would’ve been letting Fireplug Guy try to put the original tire back on and starting the whole mess over again).

So! That was three hours of Saturday that we won’t be getting back, and are hoping like hell that the other front wheel isn’t similarly screwed up.

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After all of that hilarity, I was almost too tired to enjoy the Las Vegas Ren Fair, which we wandered around in for a while. Vegas has more performers, so the performances we saw in the sprawling festival were super-professional and enjoyable. Adam the Bawdy Juggler alone was worth the ticket price. (“Behave, or I’ll tell Uncle Dad on you,” he said to a heckler. “I think your mother should’ve swallowed you.”) We also saw the Magnificent (I think?) Mary, an adorable little 67-year old lady who balanced on a beam held five feet above the stage on the shoulders of two burly audience volunteers–and then worked her way contortionist-style through a hoop while she was up there. If I can be that cool when I’m 67, then I will feel that I have won.

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Fruit juice and neon: Las Vegas’ Strip and environs http://www.elepent.com/2010/01/fruit-juice-and-neon-las-vegas-strip-and-environs/ http://www.elepent.com/2010/01/fruit-juice-and-neon-las-vegas-strip-and-environs/#comments Sat, 02 Jan 2010 00:39:38 +0000 http://www.elepent.com/?p=959 So what’s there to do in Las Vegas, if you aren’t a gambler (which we aren’t)?  Well, fans of the weird and wonderful owe it to themselves to take a walk through the surreal landscape that is Vegas.  Wander up and down the Strip, in and out of the big casinos, and marvel (or roll your eyes) at the sheer madness of it all.  Taken in the proper spirit (that is, not seriously), Las Vegas is quite the architectural fantasyland.  In the evening, of course, many of the casinos have free light, fountain and pyrotechnic shows as you walk up and down Las Vegas Boulevard.  This is not a secret, of course, so we don’t have to tell you to watch for the fountains at Bellagio or the Mirage’s volcano.

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It’s all designed to seduce you into letting them suck your money out of your wallet, of course, so unless you’re a fan of $16 cheese fries, resist the temptation.  Even the fast food costs more down here.  The Strip is good for walking and pretending that you’ve stepped into a city designed by faeries.  Insane faeries:  don’t eat or drink anything Las Vegas offers you, or you may never be allowed to leave.

Off the Strip, the next obvious stop is all the way up Las Vegas Boulevard, past the bail bonds offices and numerous wedding chapels, to Fremont Street and the “old strip.”  “Old” Las Vegas has been pretty modern for some time now, and these days it’s covered for five blocks by an elaborately engineered canopy with over 12 million LED lights, Fremont Street–now known as the “Fremont Street Experience”–is better for people-watching than the Strip, and somewhat less crowded, though no less insane.  There are two outdoor sound stages, and the bands that turn up there range from decent off-the-wall cover bands to surprising original artists.  The Fremont Street Experience is also the place to go to see the Las Vegas Neon Museum (a collection of classic Las Vegas signs), a palm reader in a gypsy wagon, or to get your picture taken with Elvis.  Las Vegas is a psychotic place, and you’d do well not to forget that.

The drivers are psychotic, too.  Or, more to the point, they’re not paying attention. Traffic backups on I-15 are common, and driving the Strip means crawling through traffic at just about any time of the day.  The best way to see the crazy parts of Vegas is to park at one of the casinos and walk.

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There are less crazy corners of the city.  We found the Artisan Hotel, on Sahara Avenue, whose laid-back atmosphere and elegant décor should push the right buttons for anyone into the steampunk aesthetic.  The Artisan is a small (64-room) non-gaming hotel, so it’s a great place to meet friends in quiet, and a welcome escape from the crazy that makes up the rest of the city.  The walls and ceiling of the lobby are covered with framed artwork, there’s free wi-fi,  and the cozy Artisan Lounge and Mona Lisa Italian restaurant are equally inviting.

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Red rocks, ghosts and heritage: Outside of Las Vegas http://www.elepent.com/2009/12/red-rocks-ghosts-and-heritage-outside-of-las-vegas/ http://www.elepent.com/2009/12/red-rocks-ghosts-and-heritage-outside-of-las-vegas/#comments Wed, 30 Dec 2009 17:31:52 +0000 http://www.elepent.com/?p=963 Venturing outside of Las Vegas’ environs, you’ll find a lot of boring suburbs and a lot of desert.  The glamorous inner city seems to have pushed all of the normal working parts of the city–fast-food restaurants, real-world retail, industrial complexes and housing–out into a wide halo of sprawl, and beyond that there’s naught but desert.

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Of course, you can find some pretty cool things in the desert.  Lexie turned up the Nelson ghost town and mine, so we wandered out to take a look (it was, as you can see from the photo, the AEV’s last adventure with us).  About twenty-five miles southwest of Las Vegas, Nelson was home to one of the first major gold rushes in Nevada, and the notoriously lawless town was home to many Civil War deserters.  The gold mines were active from 1858 until about 1945.  These days, there are a few of the original buildings left, as well as an antique soda shop that’s happy to let you wander the grounds.  We declined a tour of the privately-held gold mine for the moment, but we did wander around and look at the numerous old cars dotting the area because, well, that’s what we do.

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For natural beauty, head about seventeen miles west of the Strip to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.  Whether you stop to hike and climb the scarlet rocks (formed by oxidization of an exposed ancient sea bed–the rocks are rusting!) or just take the winding thirteen-mile scenic drive, it’s a worthwhile diversion.  Lexie shot a cool series with a local model out on the rocks.  She also shot one of me, sleeping in the sun.  *blush*

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If you’re looking for history that’s somewhat finer than the geologic scale, there’s the unlikely but cool Clark County Heritage Museum.  Located in Henderson, just outside of downtown, this unassuming (and inexpensive, with $1.50 admission) museum features a reconstructed suburban “main street” featuring houses from various eras of Las Vegas’ history.  An old West ghost town and train exhibits are also a part of it, but we had the most fun exploring the well-outfitted historic houses, RV trailers and print shop.

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Even the Studebaker parked under the carport comes from the proper era.  Inside the museum itself, there are hands-on displays illustrating the history of the area from colonial times to the present, and some interesting exhibits about the rise of Las Vegas.  Good stuff.

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We found this old headline funny--they mean "vegan" as in "Las Vegan."

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