THERE’S A NEW DON IN VEGAS

My history in Vegas dates back to the “Good Old Days.” If you know what I mean? And because of this, I’ve met a few Don’s in my time. But perhaps the most interesting of them all has recently come to power in Downtown Sin City, 624 S. Las Vegas Blvd—and that would be the extraordinary Don Vicente of Don Vicente Cigar Co. A robust man, born on the Pinar Del Rio tobacco plantation in Cuba his hands can roll a cigar with the magic possessed only by those born and raised breathing Cuban air, drinking Cuban water, and learning the craft from their fathers.

The story begins with a call from my life long friend Fat Andy. “You’re coming this weekend?”

“I don’t have reservations anywhere,” I replied, feeling a little sorry for myself.

“Stay at Dave The Jew’s,” suggested Andy.

“I don’t know…” Dave is a bad influence on me. And I thought I recalled him mentioning that five or ten attractive young ladies were going to be staying at the house for the weekend…Not easy to explain to my girlfriend.

“Come on.”

“Okay…I’ll leave first thing in the morning.”

 

THE NEXT DAY

 

I pulled up to Dave The Jew’s sprawling single story—I’ve stayed there so many times, it actually feels like home. Fat Andy greeted me at the door and with the help of a couple of servants that Dave apparently traded an ipod for, I was settled in—in no time.

“My boy!” shouted Dave upon entering the living room. “Let’s go smoke some cigars.”

I nodded toward the sliding glass windows, thinking that we’d be smoking poolside.

“No…we’re going to Don Vicente’s,” insisted Dave before I could get a word out.

“Is he related to Gambino?” I asked.

“Not that kind of Don. He opened a cigar factory on Las Vegas Blvd.—Downtown.” You’re going to love this place. It’s the best cigar for the money I’ve ever had and I’ve smoked the best.”

Now Dave The Jew may not work much, but when it comes to the finer things in life, he knows what he’s talking about.

We hopped into the SL and headed for the Strip. Continue reading

LA Galaxy – Beck Back in Orbit

They’re no Dodgers. He’s no Manny. However, one can make the comparison. Powerhouse players, notable absences, timely return, teams on the rise.

David Beckham returned to the Home Depot Center Sunday to help his (new) team, the LA Galaxy overcome his (old )team, AC Milan.

Beckham signed with the Galaxy two seasons ago but has been playing with the Italian team for the past few months per contract agreement. Galaxy personnel made similar concessions with Real Madrid in 2007, Beck’s first season with the Galaxy. Last year, Beckham completed his first full MLS season, finishing with 10 assists and five goals in 25 games.

The recent “loan” has expired and Beckham, who has commented on the discrepancy of skill (said he’d rather play in Europe as competition there is greater), returns to a surging Galaxy. Thus far, his second half return to the MLS has been a good one. Continue reading

Elementary, My Dear Watson

I had decided yesterday to use this headline regardless of the result in the history-making run by Tom Watson at becoming, among other things, the oldest golfer ever to win a major championship.  The famous Sherlock Holmes quote was first used to describe Watson’s amazing skill on the links en route to claiming his first British Open Championship by the brilliant English broadcast commentator Peter Arliss.  Arliss employed a unique vocabulary for his profession quite artfully.  Back when I was a “weekend duffer”, my friends and I would take turns imitating him ─ after each of our respective shots ─ as we played our pathetically inept rounds of golf:  “Oh, that is a bold undertaking indeed.  He takes a full rip at it with a driver, right into the teeth of the wind!  That’s a treacherous little putt he has left…” and so on.  We had a lot of fun, in a juvenile way, with our British accents nearly as bad as our games.

For people in their late-thirties and, particularly past forty, athletic prowess has rarely been world-class competitive.  Especially with indisputable proof of being free of performance enhancing drugs.  The body gives out, not all at once but imperceptibly slowly to most.  This is, of course, not true of professional athletes whose performance and statistics are under microscopic scrutiny at all times. Continue reading

SPECIAL GUEST BARISTA

A FEW MONTHS AGO

“Another Jack and Coke,” I said, ordering my fifth drink—I try to drink minimally at Lakers’ games. “Look Ray, you have to have an espresso machine at the bakery,” I urged.

“We’re going to have coffee,” responded Ray politely. He’s from Denmark they’re polite.

“That’s great, but you have to have espresso.” I wasn’t taking no for an answer. “Look how busy the Starbucks right around the corner is.” Referring to Starbucks at 11th and Grand. “You could take half their espresso business in your first month…They don’t even make their drinks by hand…And they still get the orders wrong half the time.”

“I don’t know why I come to these games,” chimed in Ed, as in Ed Yawitz our host. “Stan’s right Ray, you have to have espresso drinks.”

“Hell, I’ll be your barista—no charge, if you’re worried about the extra staff,” I offered getting carried away in the moment.

Ed nodded. “Stan’s a world class barista—I’ll come every day.”

Ray hadn’t had as much to drink as I. “Okay, I’ll put in an espresso machine, but you have to come in as our barista, not all the time, but…”

I held up my hand. “I’m there. I’ll be your special guest barista and I’ll train up some protégés.”

A FEW MONTHS LATER

Ray opened Hygge Bakery (1106 South Hope St.) and if you’ve read my blog “Let’s Hygge” you know that I was there crafting a very fine story, which I later wrote while on vacation in Las Vegas. Oh and while I was on vacation I launched downtownster’s sister site blogsincity.com a must read before any trip to Vegas. And if you haven’t read my blog “Let’s Hygge”, you should!!!

So on my way back from Vegas I received a text from Ray. “We’ve got the espresso machine.” I texted him back, that I’d be in the next day. Continue reading

WHY PAY TO BURY MJ?

The story a few days ago was buried in the Los Angeles Times—far less conspicuously than the King of Pop, who stopped at Staple’s Center to say goodbye to 17,000 of his closest friends. The tale is a simple one; taxpayers are going to get stuck with the 1.4 million dollar expense for security and services required to have had a Michael Jackson memorial service at Staple’s Center. Mayor Villaraigosa, who for the record I’ve always gone easy on (we’re both from East LA and we both went to UCLA), has stated his firm belief that the city should pay for such an event…This firm belief is undoubtedly rooted in the Mayor’s close relationship with AEG and AEG President Tim Leiweki, who for the record I like as a person—even though I often take AEG and his staff to task.

Mayor Villaraigosa should consider this: he was barely reelected against a field of nobodies—if I recall with an embarrassing 55.56 percent of the vote. Although it seems like a strange correlation to make, he has also been the face of LA Live—more than Tim Leiweki President and CEO and far more than Philip Anschutz the reclusive owner. AEG may be a loyal financial supporter of Mayor Villaraigosa, but the company has become so unpopular in the community that the Mayor is now paying the political price for his association. And make no mistake about it—this 1.4 million might be the straw that breaks what should have been an incredible political career—not because it is such a staggering sum of money, but because the city of Los Angeles is in such financial straits—

And it is AEG that should be paying for these expenses not the taxpayers of Los Angeles. Continue reading

EXCLUSIVE: INTERVIEW WITH BUZZ ALDRIN

As we all know (or should know), July 19, 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon.  Kicking off the 40th anniversary year last summer was the enchanting  3D animated fantasy film on that infamous mission, FLY ME TO THE MOON, that combined history, complete with NASA technology, blue print drawings, audio and Dr. Buzz Aldrin himself,  with a fanciful tale of three adventurous little flies that stowaway on Apollo 11 and share in the magic and wonder of this turning point in history.  FLY ME TO THE MOON is now available in 3D on DVD. Continue reading

Do You Remember?

Memory is among those easily overlooked gifts for which we ought to offer up daily gratitude to God.

Without memory, one is isolated from others.  But even worse, one is isolated from oneself.  Without memory, life is a disconnected sequence of thinly sliced moments of time.  It is memory that stitches together those instants, compiling them into our identity.

The word “re-member” means to join together just as the word “dis-member” means to separate. Continue reading

THE POKER HOUSE

Lori Petty, a Venice local,  has conquered the silver screen with her indelible performances like Kit Keller in “A League of Their Own” or Tank Girl in, well, “Tank Girl.”  She dazzled on the small screen as well producing and starring in the tv hit “Lush Life” on Fox and made her mark on Broadway back in the 90’s.  An accomplished painter, in March 2008 she had a solo exhibit of her work at the Deborah Page Gallery in Santa Monica in follow-up to her earlier one-woman show at 72 Market Street in Venice and has been a regularly featured artist on the Venice Art Walk. So, it seems only natural that sooner or later directing would be her next step.  In 2008, Petty also wowed audiences at Los Angeles Film Festival  with not only her skills as a writer and director, but with her heartfelt honesty and emotion, telling one small chapter from her own life story, with THE POKER HOUSE.

Agnes, Cammie and Bee are an incredible group of siblings. Continue reading

A POEM BY LAURIE ZUPAN

july at dusk

everything is in motion

ribbons of light

race across the sky

summer sunset begins,

painted above the azure ocean

ribbons of light

snake through this dynamic city

rush hour

blur of red and white

here, at sixth and grand

the red light

a glancing touch

an unexpected gesture

a summer kiss…

A BLOGSIDE CHAT WITH SONNY ASTANI

PART II

Foreword by Stan Lerner: the concept / purpose of a blogside chat is to develop a conversational relationship with extraordinary people such as City Councilwoman Jan Perry and mega developer / philanthropist Sonny Astani—and others to come in the near future. It is my personal belief that one of the great contributing factors to much of what ills our culture, society, and country today are invisible walls, which stand between politicians, CEO’s, spiritual leaders, and the people. Of equal concern are the walls that also seem to be between—rich, middle class, poor, gay, straight, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Republican, and Democrat. It is my hope that PART 2 of my chat with Sonny Astani will be yet another downtownster step toward removing these walls… 

As I sat with Sonny Astani at Starbucks LA Live and talked about Downtown, I couldn’t help but to be impressed by how much he cared for the community. We spoke a bit about his ten-year plan; he’s an engineer so of course he has a ten-year plan for Downtown. My mind wandered to the fact that I rarely have a ten-day plan, which is probably why I’m not the one building a thirty-story tower on Figueroa. Anyway, at this point I asked him about the seventeen million dollar donation he had made to USC, the one and a half million dollar donation to the Skid Row Housing Trust (which helps the chronically ill homeless), and the donation of close to two million dollars to the battered women’s shelter.

Remember, Sonny Astani is a serious man. And for readers who have yet to read Part One of this blogside chat, by serious, I mean more steak than sizzle. He usually dresses in dark attire, he’s physically fit (50’s), and he speaks with a deep voice that pronounces words with a casual blend of humility, confidence, and cordiality.

“I didn’t want people to think I just came Downtown to make money. I wanted to make sure that Downtown becomes a better place…See at USC it’s important that students learn how to build the cities of the future.” He moved his hands around in a circular motion in front of him as if he could visualize and outline the perimeter of the city of the future. “We really have to think about quality of life and sustainability….”

“Skid Row?”

Sonny tilted his head slightly as if to say that this was nothing. Continue reading