Beneaththeneon.com is the website of Matthew O'Brien, a journalist who's lived in Las Vegas since 1997. Matt is the author of Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas and My Week at the Blue Angel: And Other Stories from the Storm Drains, Strip Clubs, and Trailer Parks of Las Vegas. He's also the founder of the community project Shine a Light.
I’d planned to edit the first two chapters of the first draft of Two Cops and a Cricket: Surviving the Las Vegas Storm Drains, then use them as the sample in a book proposal and to apply for grants and fellowships. However, the first two chapters aren’t really representative of the book and I’m in a groove, so I think I’m going to finish a solid second draft and go from there. I’m almost halfway through the draft, and it’s now under 100,000 words, and I should be able to finish it in the next month or so.
As always, I’ll keep you updated. #TwoCopsAndACricket #ShineALight
Voice of America followed Shine a Light’s Paul Vautrinot into the tunnels. This short video will give you some insight into what life is like in the drains and what Shine a Light does, while also touching on Paul’s remarkable story.
As promised, an update on Two Cops and a Cricket: Surviving the Las Vegas Storm Drains. I’ve finished the first draft of the book. It’s 107,000 words. My task now, begun this morning, is to edit and streamline the first two chapters and make them more narrative and cohesive. I then plan to use them as the sample in a book proposal and to apply for grants and fellowships.
I will continue to keep you updated. Thanks again for your support of me, this book project and Shine a Light! #TwoCopsAndACricket #ShineALight
“I loved Las Vegas. I wouldn’t trade those years for the world. I was a big kid—still am—in an adult playground. The tunnels were just a resting place. I never felt weird or guilty when I stayed or hung out in them, because I didn’t have any responsibilities. I didn’t have anyone to take care of or to worry about. I stayed in them till I didn’t need to anymore. I was always in and out of places. When you’re doing drugs and gambling you’re a prince one day and a pauper the next.”—Zero, in the drains from 2009-2011 #ShineALight #TwoCopsAndACricket
You’re gone? Just like that? When I was preparing to send you another poem for your feedback? You slimy bastard!
Shaun, I learned so much about life and poetry from you, despite the fact that you were 20 years my junior. I wish I could’ve done more for you. Wish I would’ve been more persistent, more of an asshole. (At the time, I convinced myself that was not what you wanted or needed.) Wish I would’ve driven from Vegas to South Bend and dragged you to where you needed to be and stayed by your side.
I’m so confused. So many memories, but I assumed there’d be so many more.
The rainy season returned to San Salvador this morning. Miss you madly, mi amigo!
Con amor. Siempre …
PS- You would’ve fucking hated the poem, but provided positive, insightful and constructive criticism nonetheless.
Besides sharing several funny and morbid stories about being a musician in the South, stumbling on a mutilated body while “scrapping,” hustling the casinos, and being set on fire in the tunnels, Jamie provided perhaps the best short description I’ve heard of life in the drains. It was “casually intense,” he said. #TwoCopsAndACricket #ShineALight #CasuallyIntense
I’m predicting a bright future for this young man (and not just because he gave me and Shine a Light a shout-out). He visited Las Vegas with his family and took the time, along with his father Scottie Profitt, to cut a video on the people who live in the drains. Of all the media coverage dedicated to the tunnels, this one definitely ranks among my favorites.
One thing I’ve learned doing outreach in the drains is it’s difficult to predict who’s ready to get out. I used to assume that the clean-cut fella with a part-time job who uses drugs only occasionally was most prepared for a change—but it’s often the soiled, knit-capped heroin addict who’s nodding off in the shadows. This makes some sense, I guess, as the heroin addict (in this case) is closer to his “bottom.”
I say all this to make the point that I never thought “Gordon” would move out of the drains. In fact, I expected to stumble on his lifeless body at the mouth of the tunnel, surrounded by cans of whatever beer happens to be the cheapest at the nearby Terrible Herbst. (He’s an alcoholic who has lived underground for at least three years.)
Best of luck to Gordon, the second housed client in the Freedom House/Shine a Light partnership! We will keep you updated on his remarkable story.
One of the questions I ask all the interviewees is, “How’d you end up in Vegas?” A simple question that usually elicits an interesting response:
“I got into a high-speed chase in California. I was living in Riverside and had a pound of weed on me. I was using and selling it. I was speeding so the cops came to pull me over. I was on my motorcycle, a Honda v65, which was really fast.
“I ran because of the weed. It was in my backpack. I took the backpack off and put it between my legs and was flying down the 91, crumbling weed in my hand and dropping it to the ground. When I got rid of all the evidence I pulled over. The cops said, ‘What the hell, man?’ and I said, ‘I just thought I’d take it for a ride, see what it could do, open it up.’ They said, ‘It looked like you were trying to get rid of something.’ ‘I wasn’t trying to get rid of anything, man. You must be imagining things.’
“I was put in the county jail for the high-speed chase. I did a year and after I got out I was on probation for another year. The day I got off probation I split. I said I’m done with this place and I came to Las Vegas. It was something different, a party place. I had heard you could drink here 24/7, and that sounded good to me.”—Tommy, in the drains from 2003 to 2008 #ShineALight #TwoCopsAndACricket
A quick update on the tunnel-survivors book: I have 75,000 words of the first draft (it should top out around 100,000) and a new working title: Two Cops and a Cricket: Surviving the Las Vegas Storm Drains. (The title was borrowed from a line from Paul Vautrinot’s interview.) Also, Steve Fanell is shooting some photos for the book.
I’m as excited as ever about the project and hope to finish the first draft in the next few months. More-detailed updates to follow.