Mourning in Vegas

Travel Stories: Surrounded by the decadence of yet another nightclub opening, Kevin Capp must come to terms with the death of his grandfather

12.18.08 | 10:06 AM ET

vegasPhoto by pocheco via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Three years ago, I published “The Wow Factor,” an article about the grand opening of the nightclub and restaurant, Tao, inside Las Vegas’ Venetian hotel-casino. The story, like most of the clubland dispatches I filed at the time for CityLife, Vegas’ alternative weekly paper, was unremarkable—another metaphor-laden, borderline-turgid essay describing another new venue—save for the circumstances under which I wrote it.

Hidden behind my enthusiastic detailing of Tao’s gaudy “wow factors”—44,000 square feet of nightclub decadence including a 20-foot tall statue of Buddha and naked women lying in bathtubs sprinkled with floating rose petals—was a grandson mourning the death of his grandfather.

I learned of his passing on the second day of Tao’s opening festivities, flew back home to Tampa the following morning and filed the story just hours before attending his funeral. You wouldn’t know it from reading my ebullient, if tortured, descriptions such as, “It had a blue-north cool breeze rushing through,” but I felt the loss deep in the unnamable as I wrote.

I also felt a dizzying mix of pride and guilt at filing this story in the shadow of my grandfather’s departure.

Pride because Holmes Alexander worked as an editorial writer and lead book reviewer at the Tampa Tribune for 49 years and, as a result, knew a thing or two about the sweaty imperative of deadlines.

And guilt because Holmes Alexander was a cantankerous intellectual who wrote about important topics—Sandinistas and encyclopedias—for a major daily imbued with public esteem, whereas I wrote about meaningless topics—faux Buddhas and supine go-go girls—for a weekly newspaper funded by sex ads.

When I finally sat down at the kitchen table at my mother’s house in Tampa the morning of the funeral to write about Tao, I at first tried to romanticize the situation. My mother once told me that my grandfather, a devout liberal, was forced by his editors to write an endorsement for Nixon. This comforted me for a time. Like my grandfather, I was writing under duress by banging out a story I had nothing invested in, because that was the assignment.

But, as I wrote, I knew our situations were incomparable. The politics of the nightclub industry and the politics of a presidential campaign were worlds apart. And I knew that my generally positive feelings about the nightclub beat and Vegas didn’t match the dislike my grandfather would want me to feel. This disconnect would have bothered me almost as much as his death, were it not for an unlikely revelation spawned by his advice.

My grandfather often told me of the time he realized that journalism was his calling. One evening he was walking back to his dorm room at the University of Florida after covering some long-forgotten story while working as a student correspondent for the Tampa Tribune, when he overheard a conversation two people were having. They were seated on their front porch, and as he came within earshot, he could hear that they were talking about an article he’d written. That was it: He was hooked.

He liked to tell me this story, I think, not only because he was a natural storyteller who craved an audience, but also because it showed the connection between experience and happiness. As he liked to say, “Life isn’t about having things, it’s about doing things,” which is perhaps the only piece of advice I’ve ever memorized.

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Kevin Capp is a freelance writer in Seattle. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Seattle Weekly, CityLife and Club World Magazine. He recently published Absinthe-minded and Want Bordeaux with your B-52s?, both for the Los Angeles Times.

9 Comments for Mourning in Vegas

Mark Schoneveld 12.18.08 | 11:44 AM ET

I actually thought this was going to be a post about how it snowed 3 inches in Las Vegas yesterday.  LOL

Terry Ward 12.18.08 | 3:05 PM ET

Great, touching story, Kevin. I really enjoyed it. I think your grandfather would be proud.

Darius Fessahazion 12.18.08 | 7:00 PM ET

Great story about vegas. Like how you touched on the politics dealing with night clubs in las vegas.
I also run a blog about vegas at: Las Vegas Cheap Hotels

Kevin Capp 12.18.08 | 8:59 PM ET

Thanks for the kind words, Terry.

Bryan 12.23.08 | 12:53 AM ET

Great story.  It was truly a touching memory.

Jonas Linh 12.24.08 | 4:44 AM ET

Thanks for nice articles!

Grizzly Bear Mom 12.26.08 | 1:05 PM ET

Kevin, your story shows that you are growing into a man of the character of your Grandfather.  What better way to honor him?!

However, we create communications obstacles, change words’ meaning, and even profane their meaning by using them inappropriately. It can also be disrespectful, as in the name of the above restaurant with its monk show.  I wish people would show more respect.

Dave 12.26.08 | 9:18 PM ET

Really nice piece Kevin. Means a lot more to me now than it would have a couple years ago, and yet what you’ve written still would have put me in your shoes before I ever set foot in a Vegas nightclub, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Caleb 01.12.09 | 6:33 PM ET

Excellent piece.

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