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The Thrillville Beat
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By Will ("The Thrill") Viharo





The current Republican Administration is sinking under the weight of its own corruption, since that is the ultimate fate of all evil empires. The Democrats are trying to make political hay out of these scandals, especially the prewar intelligence debacle. But the fact is, anyone who voted to support this war, no matter what the reason or excuse, signed the death warrant for everyone killed as a result of it, on either side of this tragic, endless conflict. Demos have no cause to crow now. Their call for an investigation is over 2,000 US and tens of thousands Iraqi civilian lives too late – and counting. Now that Bush and company’s epic blunders are too big and deep for anyone to just blow off, the Demos just wanna score some points with the increasingly dismayed and disillusioned voting public for the elections later this year.

They all make me sick.

The truth is, this was once a great country to be proud of – at least when the Indians ran it. But even after they were slaughtered and overcome by European settlers, some good things happened here and there throughout our violent collective history, both aesthetically and socially. Evidence of the good stuff is vanishing, though, as uncreative urban sprawl turns much of our precious, eclectic landscape into an increasingly bland, corporate-cloned eyesore. Beauty is still there to behold, however, if you know where to look. Seek it out while you can.

The good thing about being equally disgusted with both the right and the left wing powers-that-be in this country is that it liberates you to enjoy the simple, natural, nostalgic pleasures of our topsy-turvy nation. You get past this red state/blue state nonsense and appreciate the things about our collective heritage that should unite us. The sad part is, our commercially motivated, corporation-controlled culture does not promote a sense of aesthetic history the way other countries do – not only of theirs, but also of ours. The pseudo-patriotism running rampant these days is a by-product of fear, greed and ignorance, not of pride, humility and compassion, the alleged building blocks of our nation. We used to at least try to appeal to the best in human nature, at least on the surface. Or maybe we didn’t. I could be glorifying a past that never existed. Probably am. One thing is for certain: we’re certainly an uglier nation than we once were. Before we may have been unenlightened as a people vis a vis civil rights, etc., but at least we looked good. Now we’re not only stupid, but look like shit, too. Wonderful.

But like I said, some good stuff still exists. We haven’t ruined it all. Not yet. I’m glad I won’t be around by the end of this century, though. The way things are going, the remnants of the 20th Century I adore will only exist on computer chips, replaced with a uniformly plastic society, a giant mall stuffed to the rafters with a population that hates each other. We’ll all pay the price for outlawing abortion, won’t we? I wouldn’t be surprised if they domed the whole country, trapping us in and keeping out the “fereners.” Of course, the SF Bay Area would be under its own dome. I’d be in Hawaii anyway. They’ll never dome Hawaii. Or will they, to keep out Nature and other terrorists? Paint the sky azure blue with fake palm trees? The Ozone layer may be gone by then, too. We’ll have to create a sustainable, artificial, air conditioned, computerized environment. Virtual reality replaces nature as a survival measure. We’ll suffocate in our own fake, manmade environment. There’s a rosy scenario for you.

Anyway, my place and time are here and now, to revel in, reflect upon, and enjoy. Sort of.


After a particularly hectic Halloween season, I was more than ready for a vacation. Arizona had never made my list of destinations. Chicago, the Caribbean, even Canada all were way ahead on my list. Except for Palm Springs, where we stay in the pool or indoors most of the time, I’m not really a desert kinda guy. But Monica’s good friend Karen was getting married to her longtime beau Wil in Sedona, on the Saturday before Halloween, which killed me since I hate missing the trick or treaters, especially in our new town of Alameda which is rife with the little rugrats. So we decided to make a vacation out of it. A road trip. Fly into Phoenix, drive up to Sedona for the wedding, then continue up thru old Route 66 into Flagstaff, take the train from Williams to the Grand Canyon, drive to Vegas via 66 stopping on the way to check out Hoover Dam. Then return home via LA. All along the route were people and places to see. What the hell. Will and the Mountain

I know McCain is in charge and they went for Bush last year, but the only thing “red” about Arizona I noticed were the mountains. Gorgeous. I’m not a big nature boy, but they were something.

Our good friend the late Deborah Walley lived and died in Sedona. It’s basically Marin County with red rocks. Very wealthy, artsy and New Agey. We stayed in a swanky hotel with a great view called the Amara Creekside Resort, site of the wedding ceremony. It was very comfortable and nice – looked like a renovated condo complex – and they even had DVD players in the rooms. I wish I had known this so I could’ve brought some of my own. Instead I had to settle for their extremely limited, mainstream selection. (I chose Jaws and Halloween.)

We only stayed overnight for the wedding. The next morning after brunch we walked around the scenic downtown area, or was it uptown? I don’t know, but it was all very pleasant and beautiful.

Monica and the Mountain   Monica and the River

Then we were on our way to Flagstaff. Once we drove north a bit, the country looked a lot like the area around Tahoe. Forests, mountains, etc. Nice.

We were booked to stay in old downtown Flagstaff in a joint my Pop recommended – the Hotel Monte Vista at MV

What really attracted me to this place, besides its colorful history and strategic location, is the idea it’s allegedly haunted. The day we got there was October 30 and they were conducting “ghost tours.” Among the lingering guests were a crying infant in the basement, a car accident victim with his legs cut off, pool playing phantoms, a bank robber in the bar, and an old crazy lady in a rocking chair:

hauntedrocker.jpgAll the rooms are named after famous guests, from Jane Russell to Bon Von Jovi. Robert Englund is a regular – maybe after he dies he’ll haunt the joint as Freddy! Ours was the Zane Grey Room. I didn’t find this out till the tour guide pointed it out to our group that it was the site, back in the 40s, of a bellboy being shot dead for knocking on the wrong door at the wrong time, by some gangsters. So apparently every now and then, guests in that room – including John Wayne – would hear a late night knock the door, followed by a muffled voice saying, “Room service.” I laughed it off at the time but have to admit lying awake and waiting for the knock…so is it really haunted or is this just a publicity ploy? The Old World ambience certainly give it a certain funky but elegantly spooky vibe. When we first arrived and the desk clerk came out to help us with our luggage as were parked out front, a window pane above suddenly shattered and shards of glass came flying down all around the clerk, who was pretty freaked out. The room was unoccupied at the time (says the ominous voice of Kolchak the Night Stalker…) Mvhotelnite.jpg

Old Route 66 runs right through Flagstaff, and the downtown part at least is very funky, rich with history, and has an extremely comfy, cozy, almost Berkeley-like vibe. Not just due to the abundant vintage architecture, but the fact almost everyone we met was under 25 – the hotel employees, the people walking around shopping, the people working the local cafes, and most of the patrons. It’s a college town – U of A is nearby. There’s a great old train station right on 66, too. The whole town has a very inviting, sleepy ambience. And the air is crystal clean. I really dug it.

        Downtown Flagstaff

On Halloween day we went to the Grand Canyon via an old train from the historic little burg of Williams, about a half-hour from Flagstaff.

Williams   Grand Canyon train

The train was a restored relic and the station itself reeked of cool cowboy history. They even put on a Wild West show before we boarded. We were in the “first class” rear car so we could check out the countryside, which changed from desert terrain to mountainous forest, as we entered the elevated environs of the Grand Canyon.

      MonTrain2   MonWilltrain

They had an onboard Navajo troubadour, too. I wish I could remember his name. He was a great addition to the experience. He sang several Native American “standards” but also a few other “folk tunes” from other cultures, including “NavajosingerWooden Heart” (German, Elvis sang it in G.I. Blues) and one that really touched me, his rendition of one of my favorite songs, “Sukiyaki”, the Japanese classic made famous by Kyu Sakamoto, to whom he paid tribute. (He also pointed out that “Sukiyaki” is the racist asshole Americanized title (“Sort of like if the Japanese took “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and renamed it “Macaroni and Cheese.”) The real title varies, always something about loneliness. I got all misty.

It was about a two and half-hour train trip to the Grand Canyon. I know it’s a national landmark and all that, but I never really had much of a desire to check it out. I mean, it’s a big hole in the ground, I get it. But I’m glad I did see it, though. It’s pretty spectacular – and scary, for a vertigo-prone boy like myself.

Mongrand1   Grand2   Grand3   trainrobbers

All in all, quite a special and unique way to spend Halloween. On the train back we even got “robbed” by “real bandits”:

After spending Halloween night back in our haunted hotel – no bellboy ghosts disturbed us either, sigh – the next day we headed for Vegas via 66, stopping at Hoover Dam along the way. Now, as a B movie buff, I know the Dam mostly as the last stand for The Amazing Colossal Man back in ’57 (though of course he apparently floated down the Colorado River all the way to Mexico, returning with a fucked up face in War of the Colossal Beast.) No plaques commemorating Col. Glenn Manning, though. But there was plenty of other cool stuff. It was all very Art Deco-y, too, preserving much of its Hoover-era charms. We took the full tour which included entry into the inner sanctum of the Dam, too, where they all the big pumps and stuff.

Hoover1.jpg   Monhoover.jpg   Hooverinside.jpg

I was very impressed with it all, it was a true highlight of our journey. After this it was our third trip to Vegas. We blasted Frank singing “Ol’ MacDonald” as we cruised down the Strip in our rented car. Sadly, the swingin’ music no longer matched the scenery. As Monica pointed out, Vegas is part of our “hipster heritage” so we feel duty-bound to visit now and then. monluxor.jpgBut the history we still love about it vanishes a little more each time we go here. We are exactly the retro demographic they don’t give a shit about anymore, at all, instead catering to mainstream-mongering Middle America. The current corporate cut-throats in charge of the city have almost entirely mowed down and built over all Rat Pack remains in favor of family-friendly tourist traps, each of which is big enough to be its own city. We stayed in one – the Luxor.

I’d agreed to stay here (for our last trips we stayed at the Sahara and the Stardust, two of the few remaining original resorts though they’re practically unrecognizable now anyway) because I wanted to give Modern Vegas a chance, and also I was attracted to the faux Egyptian kitsch element, due to my love of old mummy movies. No Kharis or fez-bedecked high priests in sight though. Lots of giant statues and detailed replicas of sphinxes and gods, though. But it was all spectacle, no soul. After the initial excitement of being there, we both got sorta depressed. I prefer Reno because it just feels more authentic. I also like the timeless quality of the casinos, not knowing what time of day or night it is, though that gets disorienting, too. We tried getting into the spirit of things by walking down he strip, but our feet got sore by the time we reached Caesar’s Palace. monvegasThese hotels are just god damn HUGE. There’re no intimate touches like the old days, either. They’re like cavernous neon-lit tombs with lotsa bells and whistles to keep the inmates distracted from the fact they’re slowly rotting away. And the slovenly zombie tourists walking around in a daze with their brats and stuffed shopping bags don’t exactly uplift your spirits. As usual, Monica was the most glamorous gal in town, but since everyone wore T-shirts, shorts and tennis shoes, it wasn’t much of a feat. I don’t care what anyone says – daily fashion is depressing and has been for decades. It’s not just “comfort.” It’s flat-out laziness. There’s no good excuse to look like a slob. There just isn’t.

At least the Luxor had a lot of “tiki” slot machines: tikibandit

But if you don’t gamble and aren’t there to see a show – we just missed B.B. King and Englebert Humperdink and Art Vargas – being in Vegas is like wandering around Disneyland but not getting on any of the rides. Of course the real reason we decided to stop in Vegas was to visit friends, like Ray Dennis Steckler and Robert Ensler. I also wanted to see our pal Ted V. Mikels but he couldn’t make it, had to go to LA or something, but when I called him,Billraykogar Atomic Midnight Show promoter and cult film collector Bill Carter – a pal of Rock n Roll Ray’s – picked up the phone! So he joined us for a buffet lunch at the Luxor with Ray and his wife Kathleen. Just so happened they were celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary that day (November 2) too. I also presented Ray with his “Kogar Award” and we talked about movies and such. Great people to know.

The next night we went over to Robert Ensler’s pad for dinner. He recently got hitched to his lovely squeeze, Gloria, so we owed him a visit anyway to pay our respects since we’d missed the ceremony last Spring. You may recall Robert married Monica and me at our Rat Pack themed wedding up at the Cal-Neva in North Tahoe back in May of 2001 – in his Dino impersonator guise. Robert owns and showed off a lot his cool collectibles. Also joining us was our old pal Mike Weatherford who writes a column for the Review Journal and also authored the indispensable hep cat bible Cult Vegas He flew out here to co-host my own “Cult Vegas” show a few years ago, and he also appeared with us in the French documentary “Viva Las Vegas?” made around the time of my infamous “Ocean’s 11” remake protest. (Mike took my side.) Sadly, by then my digital camera had burned through its second battery – I had remembered to pack the cord but not the actual charger – and I forgot to bring my crappy little disposable. Oh well. It was a private party, anyway. We had a blast talking about Old Vegas, or what was left of it – and these cats are in the know.

The next day on the way out of Vegas we drove down the Strip into downtown so we could check out Fremont Street again. We’d already done a lot of touristy stuff on our first two trips here, this one was mostly a social blitz, but we wanted at least of taste of Old Vegas before we split. As you probably know, they took former hub Fremont Street and domed it a while ago, turning it into a big outdoor mall. But the old casinos are still there, and so are other icons like the Pioneer Cowboy, but overall, it’s run down and kinda depressing. Mike says it might make a comeback – which could be good or bad, depending how much they preserve vs. how much they renovate. Considering the recent trends, I almost hope they just leave it like it is and cut our losses.

MonFremont   cowboy.jpg

The entire time we were in Vegas we heard almost nothing but really, really bad music being piped in from almost everywhere. You couldn’t escape it –sadly ironic, considering this town used to be known almost exclusively for its great music, from the Summit at the Sands to Louis & Keely at the Desert Inn to Bobby Darin at the Flamingo to Elvis at the International. Now it’s all crap, crap and more crap. And yet on the way out of the Fremont Dome, over the sound system they blasted Elvis singing “You’re the Devil in Disguise.”

It’s about time Satan took off his Mickey Mouse mask and reclaimed Sin City as his own. At least when he ruled this town it had Style. Even the Devil is too good for Steve Wynn and Donald Trump, those evil egomaniacs. You can’t have your soul burn in Hell if you don’t have one, anyway.

Then it was on to LA to see my Pop and meet my new infant nephew, Rome, named after his Dad and my brother. There’s a back story here that is none of your business. We also hooked up with our luscious pal Raven de la Croix of UP! fame and hung out with her nice husband Mikee in North Hollywood – or “NoHo” as it’s now called, since it’s an up and coming artist’s district. She is busy working on a documentary about her fellow Russ Meyer women, I’ll keep you posted.

eggplant.jpgWhile briefly in LA, of course I had to go to my favorite diner, Dolores’ in West LA, with my old pals Greg Vargas his gal Anna and have the same meal I’ve enjoyed there for 25 years, the Eggplant Parmigian (maybe I can’t spell it but I can sure eat it!). I told the waitress they should name it after me by now. She didn’t seem that interested or impressed, though. LA has no respect for tradition, man.

While in LA we stayed at a motel on Hollywood Boulevard called The Downtowner, attracted by the cool vintage 50s sign: downtownernite.jpg

I wasn’t impressed by the accommodations, though, that’s all I’ll say. It’s all right for a quick stopover, though, and it is conveniently located. We had breakfast at a cool retro diner called Fred’s 62. We’d made pilgrimages to a lot of vintage roadside diners on our trip, including Peggy Sue’s along the highway to LA from Vegas. Raven took us to a great joint in NoHo where the cast of the original Star Trek used to hang out, can’t remember its name, though.

Anyway, we got plenty of diners here in Alameda. It was time to come home.


Plenty going on right here anyway. See, we don’t really like to leave our home if we don’t have to. We like staying inside and watching movies and TV. We like to LOUNGE. But traveling is nice sometimes, too. The furthest I normally like to go is The Parkway (man, how will I make it all the way to our new El Cerrito theater set to open later this summer??!) It’s worth it, though. Dig what I got coming up:

On Thursday, January 12, it’s a SEXY SWORD N SORCERY SHOW featuring Ray Harryhausen’s Arabian Nights masterpiece THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), yea, the one with the Cyclops, and live on stage, the Bay Area’s own bodacious belly dancing troupe CLANDESTINE. I hear they’re planning to make The 8th Voyage of Sinbad with Keanu Reeves – and Ray as “special effects consultant.” Uh, just let him do it and put the computers away for once, geeks. Maybe he can animate Keanu while he’s at it.

Then on Thursday, February 9th its my SEXY SCI-FI SPY VALENTINE’S SHOW featuring the AIP chestnut DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE (1965), starring Vincent Price, Frankie Avalon, a bevy of ravishing robots and a chase through San Francisco. It’s very silly, fun and colorful, like the Beach Party flicks popular at the time. Our missing friend Deborah Walley is in it, too. Also on the bill will local burlesque legends THE HOT PINK FEATHERS live on stage for the first time in Thrillville. Hubba hubba hotch-cha-cha…

Anyway, despite my cynicism, I’m looking forward to ‘06, especially the long delayed and much anticipated opening of our El Cerrito Speakeasy Theater, where we’ll have a whole new market and a state of the art projection booth, greatly increasing my programming options. Also on May 31, The Tiki Goddess and I celebrate our 5th Wedding Anniversary, hopefully in our honeymoon spot, and my favorite place on the planet, Hawaii. We’ll have to fly there, though. Sigh. Alohasville till next time, guys n dolls.

NEXT: Celebrating 9 Years of Thrills!


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