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Midnight run: sampling a week’s worth of witching hours

Even in a 24/7 town, 12 a.m. is a magic hour. So we set out to capture random midnight impressions from seven evenings in this most distinctive city

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SATURDAY, JULY 3

Outside the Hard Rock Café, 3771 Las Vegas Blvd. S.

WORKING BLUE ON THE STRIP

Green light: Go. The swarm at the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Rue de Monte Carlo begins moving, en masse, onto the blacktop, toward the Denny’s across the Strip, past the bright blue couple on the corner, onto the sidewalk and ... wait, what was that back there? Two humans dressed like Na’vi from the film Avatar? And no one on foot so much as blinked? Only in Las Vegas.

It doesn’t take long for someone to notice, however, and before long folks are queued up for photos with the duo—an SUV packed with screeching ladies, a pack of drunken dudes and one very confused little girl, who can’t figure out why two costumed characters are handing her a fake sword to hold.

Those characters later identify themselves as aspiring actors Ryjin Pearson and Gabby Rogers; they’ve been working the same corner since January, when Avatar was holding strong in theaters. And though the movie’s been out on DVD since April, don’t look for them to closet their ornate outfits. The high-booted Na’vi are on the Strip most evenings from 4 until well past midnight, posing for pictures and, sometimes, collecting tips for their efforts. “There are a lot of people out there who put on a costume and walk around,” Pearson says. “That’s not creating an experience. Some people understand that what we do is different.” —SPENCER PATTERSON

SUNDAY, JULY 4

At the Bunkhouse Saloon, 124 S. 11th St.

HE WAS ONLY WITH US A SHORT TIME ...

Midnight on the Fourth of July, the Bunkhouse found itself a mascot—no, not the bra-draped deer head on the wall. When the mascot was first spotted, flying above heads on the saloon’s patio, it was like seeing Superman: It’s a bat, it’s a bird, it’s a ... giant beetle? Despite their initial surprise, bar-goers quickly warmed up to the creepy crawler, posing the beetle for pictures and holding it for a quick pet. Still, tragedy inevitably struck when one bar patron didn’t join in on the bug bonding, and decided to squash it. Luckily, all bugs go to heaven—at least when there’s a plastic Jesus on hand. —LAURA DAVIS

MONDAY, JULY 5

At Walmart, 2310 E. Serene Ave. (at Eastern)

WE’VE GOT TO GET THROUGH THE WAFFLES AND FROZEN PEAS FIRST

Can someone help these customers in the pet fish department? Two women and a boy, maybe 12, need a replacement guppy. One of their fish ate the other. “Left his guts hanging out,” the woman says. The graveyard fish guy’s on break. You, restocking kitty litter, come here and grab a net.

Yo, this flat of ice cream is melting. There are like 600 tubs of Ben and Jerry’s, shrink-wrapped on a dolly, waiting for someone to make room. There is no room. We’ve got to get through waffles (53 boxes) and frozen peas (42 bags, family-sized) first.

Does this bathing suit look good? It’s a one-piece, black with a floral bust. The boyfriend yawns. “Yeah. Get it.”

You need milk? Cause I’m buffing the dairy area right now. There’s a temporary plastic line restricting access to the refrigerators, but if you need to grab some 1 percent, I’ll turn off the buffer. No, no, I don’t mind. “I’ve never sold so much milk in my life.”

Three families are still finishing up in the McDonalds. Once they’re done, lock the place down. Employees—last call on refills.

It’s not always this loud. We’re remodeling. We ripped out an entire fridge bank. The meat counter is buried behind plastic sheeting. We’re operating three cherry pickers at once; the guys up there are vacuuming rafters. We deal with the noise, she says, re-stocking cheese, “because we make the noise.” —ABIGAIL GOLDMAN

Near the intersection of Horizon Drive and Horizon Ridge Parkway

Vegas at night

LIGHT’S OUT

The mystery cross is gone. I roll down Horizon Ridge Parkway at 11:52 p.m., looking for it, eyes questing for its familiar lighted shape through the ambient glow of the Von’s shopping center, the smear of streetlights on my windshield, the luminescence of Las Vegas. I don’t see it.

Sometime in early June, parties unknown (to me, anyway) erected the cross atop a lump of gnarled rock between a carwash and a PT’s Pub, at the foot of Black Mountain. It just appeared on, as I recall, a Tuesday morning, all act-of-God-like, maybe six feet high and four across (guesstimating here), visibly wrapped in wires. There’s not a church nearby that I’m aware of, although as a lazy agnostic, that’s something I wouldn’t be aware of. The next night, leaving PT’s, I noticed it was lit up.

“Um, lighted in what way,” a Facebook friend wondered.

Not divinely, no—not bathed in holy light, not wreathed in flames. (Whew!) Just plugged in, switched on, glowing gently. I looked at it every time I drove by, then every other time, until, after a few weeks, I didn’t notice it anymore.

And now that I want to see it, now that I’ve come to examine how a typical midnight arrays itself around the oddest thing to happen in this neighborhood in months, it’s either been unplugged or taken down entirely—there’s not enough light in the air to see for sure. I drive up behind the carwash and squint into the deep murk flanking the mountain. Still can’t be sure.

In the rosy light a few hours from now, I’ll confirm that it’s disappeared as mysteriously as it appeared, although tonight, as I look around at this silent patch of the Valley, the dark storefronts across the street, a few cars hissing by on the freeway, I sort of know it’s gone.

Which is fine. While I know jack about faith, I do go in for enigma, and for a time this out-of-nowhere apparition was one. I wonder what that’s all about, we’d say. Until, with our human ability to knit anything into our daily routine, however unusual—a mystery cross, a person, an oil spill, a recession—we stopped seeing it. It’s time had come. —SCOTT DICKENSHEETS

TUESDAY, JULY 6

On Fremont Street

THE SIXTIES ARE NOT OVER YET

“A street musician wearing super shiny, baggy, faux-retro clothing in front of a ‘Hippie Nation’ bus, playing bongos, a trumpet and making noises with his mouth, simultaneously. He had a crowd, including two drunk rednecks who could not refrain from embarrassing themselves by trying to dance, as well as a trashy couple freaking each other, all surrounded by about 50 people who couldn’t seem to look away.” —ILLUSTRATOR TRAVIS JACKSON ON WHAT HE SAW THAT NIGHT

In the Freakin’ Frog, 4700 S. Maryland Parkway

THE COOK MAY NEVER KNOW

Spectrum jams at Freakin' Frog—with some help from Barry Manilow's Kye Brackett.

The bald guy at the bar with the Bluetooth dangling idle can’t decide whether to face the bar or the jazz group assembled at the far end of the room, continually rubbing his head. “Sax player turned 16 yesterday,” a giant of a man, not in the band, bellows to a crowd of 15 from the stage as the ensemble, called Spectrum, takes a brief break. They were scheduled until 11:30, but with performers and aspiring artists from all over the Valley jumping on stage for their turn, this puppy is headed straight for the wee hours. This, I learn by eavesdropping, happens pretty much every Jazz Night, one of several weekly music-themed events at the bar. A couple huddled in a corner is oblivious as Kye Brackett, a singer/choreographer in Barry Manilow’s show, briefly takes the stage to jam some smooth jazz. (Dude can sing!) A Buick-sized screen off to the left replays a White Sox/Angels game while some guy sitting directly beneath it scribbles something furiously. Another singer takes the stage and channels Billie Holliday, belting out the lyrics, “God bless the child that’s got his own, that’s got his own.” The bartender/cook, looking up briefly from the lone, cheese-covered burger patty he’s got simmering on the grill, pleads with anyone who’ll listen, “His own what? His own what?” On this particular night, he gets no answer. —KEN MILLER

WEDNESDAY, JULY 7

At the New York-New York roller coaster

MIDNIGHT ROLLIN’

Want to see a real-life version of the Comedy/Tragedy theater masks? Then head to the New York-New York roller coaster entrance at midnight—that’s when the ride closes.

To your right, you’ll see pockets of happy tourists exiting the coaster. They’ll be smiling, laughing and high-fiving. To your left, you’ll see pockets of sad tourists who didn’t make it on time. They’ll be frowning, cursing, and staring in denial at the sign that says, in no uncertain terms, that the coaster will reopen the following morning at 10:30 a.m.

But the thing that’ll most upset sad tourists will be seeing the faces of all the happy ones. —RICK LAX

In an undisclosed location on the northwest side

A LONG NIGHT OF MILDLY ILLICIT MORMON HOOPS

This is just a simple game, and for me, midnight is the cut-off time, the turn-into-a-pumpkin hour. It’s time to decide: Go home and get enough sleep to function tomorrow, be on time for work, or stay and play. Most nights, the decision is already made. Are we winning? Is my jumpshot on?

This game has been going on for years here, a run-of-the-mill LDS church in the sprawling suburbs. Sometimes it’s Wednesday night, sometimes it jumps around, but it always starts around 10:30 p.m. Five-on-five, full court, game’s to 11 by ones and twos. Win and stay on. Lose and sit down, and if you’re the oldest guy in the house (I am), hope you get back on the court before pumpkin hour gets here. It’s more fun than competition, but it can get pretty heated. It’s a tight-knit group. There are few outsiders. This game has survived growing up, college and Mormon missions, getting married and/or having kids, everything. There is a character to this game, and there are plenty of characters playing. There is a platoon of Samoan brothers, polite and athletically gifted, although they rarely all show up on the same night. There is Kiwi, quite possibly the best Korean point guard on the planet. There is LB, taller and faster than us, which is just not fair. There is Nate, who might bring his son, which means if you’re sitting, you’re baby-sitting. Sometimes it’s 3 a.m. before we’re turning the lights out. Sometimes a post-game meal at Roberto’s or Aloha Kitchen is in order. Sometimes you get stuck on a bad rotation and lose and lose again, but you stay all night. I can’t decide if it’s because I want to win or I just like hanging out.

Playing midnight basketball in a church you’re not exactly allowed to be in may not seem distinctly Vegas, but it is. If you leave at midnight, there’s nothing but the quiet warmth of the desert, the streetlights taking you home, and sleep. If you stay, there’s the pounding of the ball and shoes squeaking on the hardwood, and somebody’s iPod plugged into the church PA banging out Jay-Z. And your jump shot, and a few more hours of blind, indifferent joy. —BROCK RADKE

THURSDAY, JULY 8

At Tiffany’s Café in White Cross Drugs, 1700 Las Vegas Blvd S.

THE DANCERS WANT THEIR CHICKEN

“I got the bay leaf,” my friend says, pulling it from her soup.

“Does it mean you win something?”

“It means I’m lucky.”

“Louie, Louie” plays through the speakers at the end of the lunch counter at Tiffany’s Café in White Cross Drugs.

Tiffany's Cafe is a real piece of Vegas history, and that includes the cook, Louie.

Louie the cook, who’s been slinging hash browns for 26 years, doesn’t seem to notice his namesake song. We say something. He smiles, slaps a raw chicken breast on the grill. Grease splatters. It’s a take-out order. At midnight, most of the orders are take-out. “Nightclubs all around here, all night long,” he says in his thick, Macedonian accent. “Olympic Gardens, Déjà Vu. We deliver, too. Dancers order a lot of food. Sometimes seven or eight orders in a line, all kinds of stuff. Mostly low calorie—salads, chicken, chicken, chicken.”

The burger orders will come, however. Customers drop in all through the night at the 24-hour diner—historic or at least legendary with its long lunch counter, red swivel chairs, greasy feel, fluorescent lights, loyal customers and curious art. Even Louie is legendary. He’s a fixture. “Louie’s the best,” says my friend, a regular. “The best.”

Customers roll in piecemeal and settle at the counter. The Bee Gees’ “I Just Want To Be Your Everything” comes through the speakers, mingling with the fans and vents above the grills. Louie makes a little something for himself to eat, then sets it aside.

“No breaks,” he says. “You eat when you can.” —KRISTEN PETERSON

In the Brenden Theaters, at the Palms

DADDY, WHY IS THE ALIEN EVISCERATING THAT MAN?

I end up at the Brenden Theatres at the Palms at midnight on a lot of Thursdays to see movies that aren’t screened for local critics, so I can talk about them on the radio the following day. Often there’s barely anyone here (I think four people showed up to see Jonah Hex a few weeks ago), but tonight the place is packed for Predators, the reboot of the veteran alien-hunter franchise. The theater manager tells me that 150 tickets have been sold by the time I arrive a few minutes before showtime.

In the lobby, there’s a guy with a baby in a carrier, and I really hope he’s just waiting for someone to use the bathroom, because bringing your baby to see Predators at midnight is not cool, for the baby or for your fellow patrons. Inside the theater, the audience is probably 90 percent male, and everyone seems pumped. Just before the movie starts, in walks the guy with the baby, along with two other small children. The person in front of me is incredulous. “At midnight!” he exclaims.

The movie is exactly the dumb action-fest this crowd seems to want (there are cheers when the Yakuza character kills a Predator with a samurai sword). And to be fair, the baby never makes a sound. —JOSH BELL

FRIDAY, JULY 9

In the emergency room at University Medical Center, 1800 W. Charleston Blvd.

HALF THE DAY IS PEAK HOURS

“You said the ‘Q’ word.”

That’s “quiet.” As in, “Only 68 patients in the UMC Emergency Room right now? So things are pretty quiet.”

Yeah, until you say the Q word.

Outside, a hospital helicopter launches from the roof. Before that, 10 ambulances showed up almost simultaneously.

“When are your peak hours?”

Peak hours are from 3 in the afternoon to 3 in the morning. Half the day is peak hours.

Everybody who comes to the ER with a medical problem gets treatment, insured or not.

There’s a whole section set aside for dialysis—uninsured diabetics show up in crisis like clockwork.

There’s a section for OBGYN emergencies—mainly, pregnant women. In one of these rooms, a man is sitting next to an empty bed, resting his forehead on the hospital mattress.

There’s a section for psychiatric patients—the emergency room gets plenty.

There’s a section for particularly critical patients—heart attacks and strokes, for example. People hooked to extra machines, surrounded by more blipping equipment.

There are doctors, nurses and security guards everywhere. Sleeping patients are curled in their hospital gowns and gurneys. When individual rooms get crowded, emergency patients spill into the halls, which can be lined with more cots.

In one hallway, a woman sleeps under a white sheet with her feet hanging out. One shoe is missing.

Down the hall, a young guy in a wheelchair holds a giant plastic cup, half filled with a brown drink he doesn’t want to finish.

“You have to,” someone tells him, quietly.

“I know,” he says, quieter. —ABIGAIL GOLDMAN

On Fremont Street

HOPE VIRGINIA NEVER HEARS ABOUT THIS

“Santa needs a drink! Santa needs a drink!” More than two dozen people in holiday attire chanted those words on Fremont Street at midnight in various versions of holiday garb.

Santa Rampage on Fremont St. (7/9/10)

The Weekly caught up with the red-and-white crew as they finished up a round of table dances at the Glitter Gulch strip club. The flash mob took a moment to dance when “Time of the Season” started playing during the canopy light show.

Santas smiled and stumbled as event organizer Cameron Grant, in his holly-jolly Father Christmas suit, tried to wrangle the group to their next stop—dancing on the bar at Hogs & Heifers—but his tiny megaphone was drowned out by naughty Christmas carols. Rosie cheeks abounded, whether from the heat or the booze. Santa Jeremy Espinosa brought a backpack mister to help cool his fellow Clauses, whom he met through a Burning Man meet-up group.

Every six months since 2003, the Santa Rampage has pub-crawled around, though the middle of the summer probably garners more raised eyebrows than the December trek.

“What the fuck?” questioned a passerby as the group danced along en masse, drinks in hand.

“Let me show you my frilly panties!” shouted one naughty Mrs. Claus, while a Hunter S. Thompson Santa kept losing her (yes, her) cigarette from its holder. Nearby an Elvis Santa rocked out with Steampunk Santa and Goth Santa as Blue Wig Santa’s little helper tugged at his (yes his) dress. More yelling than singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” they bellowed, “You better watch out! You better watch out!” They were impossible to miss. —DEANNA RILLING

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