Jerry Tarkanian’s biggest mistake ever

Embed from Getty Images

A few years ago, right around this time of year, I had the chance to interview former UNLV Runnin’ Rebels Coach Jerry Tarkanian, who died today at 84.

I was working on a Valentine’s Day story about couples in the spotlight, how local Vegas celebrities manage the ups and downs of a relationship in the public sphere. So photographer Leila Navidi and I showed up to talk with Tark and his wife Lois, a city councilwoman, at their Las Vegas home. While we waited for Lois to arrive, I sat in the kitchen with Tark, trying to make small talk while he grumbled about Lois the way old married couples do. He wasn’t really in the mood for an interview, but he mostly tolerated us anyway. And when we got around to the early days in his relationship with Lois he lit up a bit, and told this wonderfully endearing story:

“We didn’t have a big wedding because we didn’t have a lot of money. I was the assistant football coach at a Catholic high school and it was football season. We had a game on Friday night and we got married on Saturday. I took her to the Fresno State/Idaho football game [for our honeymoon], and she’s never forgiven me for that. That was the biggest mistake I ever made, but in reality there was nowhere to go.”

Click here to read Tark’s obituary on the Las Vegas Sun, and click here for the rest of our 2011 story on “Love in the limelight.”


A five-second photo tour of spring

I suppose good bloggers publish so many photos and posts that they have no need for these kind of wrap-ups. I am not a good blogger. All that writing and editing for a living makes it sorta hard to hit the blog when I get home.

Excuses, excuses, right?

Anyway, it’s been a wonderful spring, complete with two (!) trips home to Boston, two great races, lots of good food and some quality (and sweaty) exploration. With summer breathing down my neck, here’s a selection of photos that capture a bit of the last few months.

photo 1

Ah La Jolla. Yes, it’s high-priced and a bit precious, but this doesn’t suck. Palms trees, sunset over the Pacific, moisture in the air and sunny days that don’t feel like they’re melting your skin. This photo was taken in early March, the night before I ran the San Diego Half Marathon with my friend Katie.

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Read this now: In the bathtub with Piff the Magic Dragon

Scrub a dub dub? Erin Ryan chats with Piff (and sidekick Mr. Piffles) at Rose. Rabbit. Lie. at Cosmopolitan. By Adam Shane

Scrub a dub dub? Erin Ryan chats with Piff (and sidekick Mr. Piffles) at Rose. Rabbit. Lie. at Cosmopolitan. By Adam Shane

For the Weekly‘s Interview Issue last week, we set out to start conversations—with a star DJ who just moved to town, a pastry prodigy changing the game in Chinatown, a biologist studying desert creatures and random strangers in elevators who may not have known they were being interviewed. But the hands-down winner for Most Likely to Make You Literally Laugh Out Loud was Erin Ryan’s interview with Rose. Rabbit. Lie.’s Piff the Magic Dragon. Set in a bathtub with a Chihuahua and doughnuts, naturally:

Should I take my shoes off? I have dragon-colored socks. Yeah, take ’em off. It’s a socks-only bath.

So, are you technically naked right now? Technically, I am naked, yeah. But magic dragons are used to being naked. That’s how we spend our lives. It’s like Adam and Eve before the fall. It’s very Biblical. …

Click here to keep reading (you know you want to, he’s a magic dragon!).


A five-second fall photo tour

Ah, the blog. We had a good run there, all those posts, all that writing. And then, as per usual, I fell off the wagon.

It was tragic, of course. People kept commenting and emailing, begging for the blog to return. Oh wait, no one did that.

Regardless, I’m back for another crack at this self-indulgent little exercise—starting with a five-second photo tour of the fall you missed:


This “mural” by Portuguese street artist Vhils was part of the Life Is Beautiful art program, and I’m fully obsessed with it. Rather than painting his walls, Vhils chips paint away to create his pieces, which are simply beautiful and incredibly expressive.


I spotted this religious sculpture at the Broadacres flea market in North Las Vegas while Tovin was on assignment. The market is a vast, overwhelming consumer landscape, where you can buy everything from roast peanuts to cable TV packages to luchador masks and underwear.


A co-worker’s desk cactus. I thought it looked like some freaky insect ready to spread its tentacles and attack.


My bib number from the 2013 Las Vegas Ragnar Relay. This was my third year running, first year captaining, and my team ran like banshees from Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort to Lake Las Vegas, devouring miles at a far faster pace than we expected. We crossed the finish line (only mostly dead) about an hour and a half early and placed 38th in our division. But mostly we just had a crazy blast, which is really the whole point.


Afterward, Tovin and I returned the vans and finally tried Lulu’s Bread & Breakfast, where I ate this fantastic creation, which was basically an open-faced caprese egg sandwich. I wish I could put it in my mouth every weekend.


Speaking of food, check out this snapshot from the Friendsgiving 2013 spread. I’m talking two turkeys, 25 people, 32 biscuits, a couple of parents and a ridiculous amount of leftovers. (Not pictured: my first-ever lemon meringue pie, which mostly worked)


And finally, a for-personal-use-only photo from our Neon Museum visit with Tovin’s parents. I always find something new to photograph and obsess over, like this gorgeous purple sign, which is currently the wallpaper on my phone.

A perfect day in Las Vegas

Dreaming of Bouchon's chicken and waffles ... Photo by Leila Navidi

Dreaming of Bouchon’s chicken and waffles … Photo by Leila Navidi

Ever wake up, think What should I do today?, and come up empty? In the last issue of Las Vegas Weekly, we kicked boredom in the teeth with curated itineraries, native’s recommendations, a choose-your-own-adventure quiz and personal dream days from Weekly staffers. From Fat Elvis’ lounge show to McCarran runway watching,  epic meatball subs and something called the “Pizghetti,” your new favorite afternoon activity is in here somewhere. Maybe it’s even mine.

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Meanwhile at DEF CON …

August 2, 2013, 10:30 a.m., Rio Hotel & Casino. 

The iPhone in my purse is off. So is the laptop I left in the car. You can’t be too careful. This is DEF CON, after all.

I’m at the infamous annual hacker conference for a story about casino security for Las Vegas Weekly, and so far I’ve learned not to use the Wi-Fi, definitely not to log onto anything with a weird name and that undercover feds don’t give high fives to kids with cardboard signs asking them to do just that. The tin foil-covered cowboy hat I saw pass by was cute, but it’s powerless against the types roaming these halls, competing in hackersports and listening to talks on femtocells, infiltrating open government systems and, of course, robots.

I’m looking for my next interview when I spot a kid in glasses sitting on a bench. Naturally, I hover over him and wait an awkward 30 seconds before I start talking.

Me: Hi, my name’s Sarah and I’m working on a story for a local magazine. Could I ask you a few questions?

Kid: Uh, I’m not really comfortable with that.

Me: It’s okay, I don’t have to use your name. It’s just about how a casino like Rio deals with security when a conference like DEF CON is here.

Kid: I’m not comfortable answering any questions.

I’ve already employed my perkiest voice and there are thousands of other people wearing the totally hackable DEF CON 21 badge that looks like a playing card, so I give up. Fine. Be uncomfortable! But the hallway is suddenly packed with attendees shuffling in the opposite direction of where I want to go. I’m stuck next to Uncomfortable Glasses Kid, and now I’m the one feeling uncomfortable. I stare into my notebook as if it contained some secret that I hadn’t just written. Finally, he speaks:

Kid: Excuse me, do you know what time it is?

He’s holding a smart phone in his hand, looking at it as he asks me. Out of instinct I check my wrist, but it’s bare. I’m about to reach for my phone, when I remember that it’s off. That’s right, I’m at a hacker conference, talking to a hacker who’s holding his own phone and is too uncomfortable to give me an anonymous interview.

Me: No, I don’t. I’m sorry.


Cooking, crawling and all types of ill shit


Hey look! It’s a stop on my new favorite bar crawl: the Velveteen Rabbit. (Shhh. Don’t tell.)

Every time I go out, people ask, “What’s new?” And, in keeping with social custom, I give them a non-answer: “Not much.” Sometimes I even say, “Same old same.” Can you believe how stupid that sounds? Neither can I. 

Worse, it’s a total lie. Things are new. Samba’s midway through devouring a new rope toy. I cooked a new orzo salad last weekend. I’m newly obsessed with dapper Australian singer Willy Moon (just try not dancing to “Railroad Track”). And I’m contemplating a new adventure that involves driving a three-wheeled motorbike across Peru. Okay fine, I’ve been thinking about that one for a while. 

And work? Well …

First, I made a plea for a Downtown Las Vegas water fight. You know, a depths-of-summer, all-out, Super Soaker-packing, blast-your-neighbor affair inspired by the water gun battles in Jerusalem that help relieve the heat and tension just before Shabbat.

Then I found my new favorite bar crawl, a Downtown jaunt that doesn’t touch Fremont Street, doesn’t have a single dress code or velvet rope and includes a place that serves seasonal punch in charming little glasses. It can be your favorite new bar crawl, too.

Scarpetta chef Scott Conant taught me to make his signature spaghetti, a simple dish that’s far richer than it has any right to be. The keys: good pasta, good tomatoes, a good helping of butter. The takeaway: I will never rinse pasta again. (It’s very, very bad and gets rid of all that good starch that helps pasta bind to sauce.)

Finally, I got to spend an afternoon at Calico Basin gawking at local rock climber/Porsche racer/pilot/all around badass Simon Peck make tricky routes look like absolute cake. He’s as humble as they come, and watching him on the cliffs made me want to squeeze my feet into a pair of elfin-sized shoes and give climbing another shot. 

So, yeah, stuff’s new. 

What I’ve been up to


Cee Lo channels a big red Christmas ornament at his holiday special. Copyright: Erik Kabik/

Remember in Clueless when Tai uses the word “sporadically” in a sentence for the first time and we’re all really proud and slightly embarrassed for her? Well, this blog has become a sporadic part of my life. Or maybe worse. Maybe it’s occasional.

Anyway, since it’s Friday and I’m stalling at the office before diving into a giant to-do-before-Denver list, figured I’d catch you up on what I’ve been up to lately. Here goes …

First, I tried to write a scary story with a little help from Zak Bagans of Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel. Turns out, even when you have a haunted 100-year-old rectory, demonic possessions and a real-life exorcism, translating them into something actually frightening is really, really hard.

I also met some recent Vegas transplants working on a badass video game called Battle for Presidency where you can fight as a steroidal Obama or a supernatural Ron Paul. You do not want to mess with Teddy Roosevelt.

And I had a really cool chat with Gail Simmons from Top Chef and Food & Wine in advance of the mag’s All-Star Weekend in Vegas. I refrained from getting all stalkerish and telling her how we both majored in Spanish and anthro and both studied abroad in Spain and isn’t that crazy?!

Finally, I went to a taping for Cee Lo’s upcoming Christmas Special concert with guest appearances by Rod Stewart, Eric Benet, a whole bunch of bright-faced Voice competitors and the Muppets (Coolest. Thing. Ever.). Note to Cee Lo and everyone else in the world: Vinyl suits with floor-length jackets are a very, very bad idea.

Oh yea, and I did Tough Mudder last weekend. That’s about it.

Some place I call home

Dad with burnt caramel and goat cheese brownie ice cream cones from Toscanini's.

When I get a few days with my parents (it only happens three or four times a year), the conversation always turns earnest fairly quickly. So I wasn’t much surprised when my mom laid down this question during a casual radiator-seat chat last Friday: “These days, where do you feel the most comfortable?”

It’s something I’ve thought about myself recently—the curious concept of home and what it means when you’ve lived somewhere long enough to have just the twitching beginning of roots, but the people you love the most are still miles and miles away. Is home where the heart is? Where the boyfriend is? Or where the sweet red couch I bought on Craigslist is? And when those are three different places, is anywhere really home?

I used to boast about how I felt more me the moment the plane touched down in Boston. I walked faster, absorbed more, felt more alive in the city that I’d grown up in but had left before I had the chance to fully appreciate it as an adult. This time, I exited the plane into an unfamiliar terminal (E) and stumbled to the curb in an all-day travel stupor. I spent most of the weekend in Kendall Square, Cambridge, a neighborhood I’ve never known well and still don’t. I had to use Google Maps to choose a route for my run and even ask for directions while driving friends home. It was the first time that “home” has felt less than, well, homey.

But there were moments of comfort, too, with the people who’ve always made Boston home and the places that hold deep, embedded memories that I forget about until they’re right in front of me again. White Mountain Creamery still smells like sweet, rich, freshly churned ice cream; the North End still vibrates with cranky townies, wide-eyed tourists and the hungry energy of waiters hoping to make a buck. When my mom popped the question, the answer I gave surprised us both: Vegas. Four days later, Boston may not have taken over, but she was definitely back in the race.

There’s this guy named Marcel …

Marcel Barel and I at his Lee Canyon Cabin. By Sam Morris

I met Marcel Barel a few weeks ago when I was up at the Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort for a ladies’ day. (Yes, in Vegas even the ski resort has a ladies’ special.) After we spent a few hours boarding, the girls and I retired to the lodge’s bar for wine and snacks and good conversation. At some point during the reception, the gentleman in this photo sidled up to me and almost immediately I realized I was speaking to someone very special. Marcel is, in many ways, the face of the ski resort. He’s worked there for 45 years, ran the ski school for a long time before his daughter, Gabrielle, took over and spends a lot of his time in a cabin just a few minutes away. A cabin without electricity or central heating. Did I mention he’s 79?

Anyway, when I got back down to the Valley I couldn’t stop thinking about the man I’d just met and what an interesting story he had. So, a few weeks later I headed back to the mountain to spend a day getting to know Marcel a little better. The result is “King of the Mountain,” which ran in this week’s issue of Las Vegas Weekly. Enjoy the story, and next time you’re up on the mountain, keep an eye out for a spry skier with tufted eyebrows making his way downhill with visible skill. Say hi; you won’t be disappointed.