Friday, November 04, 2005

Questions from Hong Kong

Today some local stuff, just for Tess, but the rest of you can read too.

One of my favorite shows on TV is CSI. The original, sorry I can’t stand that ginger haired guy in Miami. He always has to be the one to do everything – first on scene with the gun, first with the sharp quip, first to . . . well, also in every scene. And the New York one is just too dark and cold. It also seems to be popular around the country. We are getting cable TV, with several hundred channels, and quite a few of them have CSI reruns on. Spike TV runs two shows every night, from 7pm until 9pm, which I usually put on if I can get the remote away from B and turn off that stupid news network. Too much bad news repeated over and over and over. Rather have investigations we’ve already seen over and over and over. I’ve got a bad memory, and usually forget most of what’s going on anyway. It’s nice to finally say ‘yes – that’s what it was’.

One of the fun things to do when watching TV is to find the flaws in a show. At least for B and I, we point things out all the time. There are a lot of TV shows filmed in southern California, so it was rather easy to watch those and see things. Several shows were filmed in San Diego, one just down the street from our house. There was a bar right next to where my wife worked which was a favorite location for the TV series Silk Stalkings, supposedly occurring in Miami. She would frequently have problems parking near work because of all the movie vans and trailers filling up the side streets.

My favorite ongoing thing was with Baywatch – supposedly lifeguards having a fun time in the warm sun and sand near LA. But if you live there you know how crowded things are in the summer at the beach. At least the filmed on the real location instead of an Australian beach or something. But the only time they could get permits to film was in the winter, when it was cold and the beach was empty. OK, cold is relative, this isn’t Fargo. But if you watch reruns and watch closely you’ll see that the crowd of beach goers are all together, if the scenes show the rest of the beach you will see empty sand except for right around the camera. Everybody is splashing in the water, but the water temp is probably around 50f, and the air temp is not much more, usually under 60f with a little breeze. Smile and pretend it’s warm, but notice the cold works.

Now we live here, and a number of new shows are supposedly based in Vegas. All of them are really filmed in the Los Angeles area, with infrequent trips to Vegas to just get some background shots – driving down the strip, in front of a recognizable casino, and so on. The show Vegas, the life at a big casino, even built a big three story casino set on a soundstage in LA. There was one show last week where one of the female leads was kidnapped, put in the trunk of a limo, and driven a little ways out of town to dig up a buried fortune. When released from the trunk they were in a valley with surrounding hills covered with oil pumps. Typical southern California scene, there are no hills like that here and definitely no oil wells in the Vegas area.

Most of the exterior CSI scenes are filmed in the LA area. I can recognize the hillsides and streets in the background. Usually the green gives it away – there are not many green areas around Vegas, might be a lot of trees around but too many houses now have low water desert landscaping, while the CSI places always have nice green lawns. There is a weekly column in the local paper that discusses what is being filmed around town and whenever a show comes to town we know about it. There are a lot of people who work as extras for TV shows and video shoots, so the publicity also is a call for employment.

As far as CSI crimes, the murder rate in Vegas is 4.5 times the national average. I couldn’t find recent numbers, but there are around 140 homicides in the Las Vegas area each year. The rate keeps going down, but as more and more people move here the actual number probably increases. Statistics from a few years ago show that only around 30% of crimes are solved, so I guess CSI is a little misleading in that almost every case there is solved. I do remember two crimes where the group could not figure out who did what, but I think one of those pointed to somebody, who in a later episode was caught doing similar crimes.

I have a friend on the police force; I’ll have to ask him if we have so many weird crimes. I think there are a lot of ‘standard’ murders, such as people shot on the street, or knifed in their apartments. Most deaths make it into the newspaper, and I can’t remember reading about any weird ones. I think the CSI writers read stories from around the world, and do a ‘well, what if’ kind of thing where the crime is brought here. I have never heard of a gorilla falling from the sky, or a scuba diver up a tree. Not that those things haven’t happened somewhere. So I think most of the CSI stuff is really pretend – as I think most stuff on TV is. Sorry if that ruins anything for anybody.

I know a lot of what they do is amplified for TV. For example, the ‘instant’ DNA testing. There has been a lot of publicity about DNA testing times recently, and usually stuff is sent to outside labs, and with the backlogs discussed it seems to take up to nine months to get back results. Even if the local lab had a DNA testing machine I think current technology takes several days to develop a specimen. So the concept of taking a bunch of swabs, having people wait in the lounge, and then coming back and saying who did it is a little far fetched. But it is just an hour show, and would be rather inconvenient to have big gaps between sequences. I rather like the fingerprint matching computer though, have to find out if there is one that really does that. If there is I am reasonably sure it doesn’t put up a picture of each print as it compares. Knowing computers it would take longer to build and display the screen than to do a comparison internally. Does look pretty though.

How much contact do I have with tourists? Actually, none at all. Or rather, very little. We live about two miles due west of the Strip (Las Vegas Boulevard). We can see the big hotels and casinos from our front yard, down between the houses across the street. But we hit the local supermarket, local restaurants and stores and malls and probably never see a tourist. It is nice once in a while to drive down, park at the back of the pyramid and walk through the big casinos. The shows and fancy restaurants are always there if we want to go to them, but usually don’t. But that’s our choice.

I work just south of the airport. Driving home I go around the west end of the runways up the south end of Las Vegas Boulevard for about a mile and up to the road that crosses over the I-15 freeway and then down back roads to home. This takes me past the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign. Three or four times a week on my ride home there are cars stopped in the fast lane while people are out getting their photos taken in front of the sign. The standard pose is both arms over your head leaning a little pointing at the sign. The cab and limo drivers know they can pull onto the center divider, or at least stop in the left turn lane, but most tourists just get in the way. Some walk down, then cause accidents running across the road to get over to the side. I’ve almost hit a few myself. This is about my only interaction with tourists on a regular basis.

Oh, looking in Google for ‘welcome to Las Vegas sign’ came up with a ton of entries – two of the ones I liked were this sign in 360 and this one with the strip. Couldn’t find one with somebody in the ‘standard pose’. Guess if I looked enough it would be there.

I was driving home one day and Elvis in a pink Cadillac convertible drove past and waved at me.

What television show/book/movie best captures life in Las Vegas?

I can’t really say that anything really shows what Vegas is like. I have two views here – one is my living/working side. What comes to mind here is how open it is, the clear blue sky, with stripes from the airplanes high overhead, flat open spaces out to distant mountains all around, bright sunlight and dry dusty air and the wind and heat (can’t bypass the 117f). The other angle is the tourist Strip – all the neon lights at night, the sound of slot machines, crowds and noise, and how you can take several hours and walk through dozens of hotels and casinos until your feet and ears and eyes hurt and still not see it all. Two very different views, both of which are in my mind when I think of Las Vegas.

I have never seen a good representation of either side. Maybe some old cowboy movies might have the feel of the heat and wind and sun and open spaces. Most movies only show one casino, or the view down the strip, none really show how big it is or how many places there are or how different (or similar) each casino is. Probably like your view of Hong Kong – I’ve got images in my mind of the crowds and the bay, but you talk about walks to the playground and shopping and the bus and things you do that I’ve never thought about. Come on out and I can show you – wait, let’s see if I can handle three Swedish boys next week before I try four Canadian kids that speak Mandarin.

And for Clare:

1. A warm fresh bagel with cream cheese and Starbucks Mocha Valencia. (wait – didn’t I do this one before? But it’s still a good breakfast).
2. Sitting in a movie theatre by yourself so you can make comments out loud and talk to the characters. (Went to see Corpse Bride and Wallace & Grommet last night – we were the only ones in the room)
3. Salty popcorn with buttery flavored oil in the BIG tub while watching a good movie. And not having anybody sit in front of you so you have to look between the heads.

No comments: