Vegas Staycation

During the summer of 2008, I worked in the newsroom of the now-defunct Tampa Tribune. It was once considered cutting edge, with a converged newsroom for its newspaper, television and online operations. Wow! Anyway, I helped produce multimedia — “what’s an audio slideshow?” my 16-year-old recently asked me as I instantly aged a million years — and launched, an entertainment site ( was the cutting edge domain for the website, short for “Tampa Bay Online”). I just pulled the piece I wrote for the launch, published Aug. 4, from the Wayback Machine and wanted to save it here.

TAMPA – The allure of Las Vegas, that city’s tourism flacks will tell you, is its collection of celebrity chefs and world-class shopping.

We beg to differ. Vegas isn’t nicknamed Sin City because it has a Barney’s New York. The foundation of the city’s fame is gambling, flashy entertainment and lots of flesh.

But the economic downturn and the rise of gas and air travel costs have meant that visitors to Vegas are having less fun (and by “having fun” we mean “gambling”; in May, gambling revenues were down more than 15 percent from a year ago). Coincidentally, we’ve been saddled with the atrocious coinage “staycation” to describe a stay-at-home vacation.

Which got us thinking: Who needs to travel to Vegas? You can have the same fun without leaving the Tampa area.

Well, sort of.

For a change of scenery during your next stay-at-homer, we offer an itinerary of sorts: a night in Vegas … in Tampa Bay.

Noon: Go crazy
If Vegas was built on gambling, its dining scene — no matter how alluring to the foodie set it may have become — was built on buffets. So start the night with a bite at Crazy Buffet. You won’t find the standard Vegas cheap-‘n’-greasy, but for $15.99 you can gorge yourself on the buffet’s weekend brunch, featuring a steak hibachi, sushi and sashimi. (After 5 p.m., the buffet switches to dinner and the cost goes to $19.99.)

1 p.m.: A Vegas landmark
Tourists love getting their picture taken in front of the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada” sign on the south end of the strip, says Alicia Malone, a public relations representative for the Las Vegas visitor’s bureau. Yeah, it sounded like a pretty lame attraction to us, too. But since you’re spending a night in Vegas on the Bay, you might as well swing by a Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino “Vegas-Style Slots” billboard for a picture. One is located on Busch Boulevard near Interstate 275.

1:30 p.m.: Serious gaming
With a meal and a tourist photo out of the way, you’re ready to move on to the most Vegas-y event of the day: sitting and mindlessly playing the slots at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino for hours on end. While the casino doesn’t offer many card games, it does offer poker if slots aren’t your thing.

5 p.m.: A little flesh
What would a night out in Vegas be without a little flesh? (Answer: Phoenix, Ariz.) The Penthouse Club Steakhouse offers one variety of flesh on a plate and another on a pole. The prices can be a little, er, stiff — $45 for a 12-ounce aged New York strip steak — but you’re here for the food, right? (If you show up after 8 p.m. only to consume the Penthouse stripping, and not the steak, it’s $10 to get in.)

7:30 p.m.: A Tampa landmark
Tampa’s answer to Wayne Newton is Johnny Charro. Charro no longer performs in Bay area hotel ballrooms as he did when he was 40 years younger. Instead, he makes regular appearances at the American Legion and Tampa Bay Sports Grille. The setting may be less elegant (and the cocktail waitresses not up to Vegas standards), but Charro is still a crooner and a charmer — at least, if you find pudgy crooners charming.

9 p.m.: Fountains
Vistors to Las Vegas, our Vegas tourism expert assures us, love the Bellagio fountains on the strip, where they can watch the water come alive as it dances to nauseatingly melodramatic Celine Dion songs. On your way back from the Charro show, you’ll want to stop by the fountains in front of the Fox 13 studios on Kennedy Boulevard. Actually, you won’t — they’re painted swimming-pool blue and have no water in them — but it’s as close to the Bellagio’s fountains as the Bay gets, unless you count the flooding on south Howard after a good summer drenching.

9:30 p.m.: Artificial fun
You can’t have the true Vegas experience without spending some time in an artificial environment built solely for amusement. The Las Vegas strip has New York, New York, but the Bay has the world’s largest bowling pin and the rest of the supremely cheesy Channelside Bay Plaza. (Full disclosure: The Tampa Tribune and have a business arrangement with the plaza.) Options for late night entertainment include Splitsville, a combination bowling alley, bar and restaurant, and Howl at the Moon, a lounge with dueling pianos. Stump’s Supper Club features a shag-carpet-covered stage and house band Jimmy James and the Velvet Explosion. Cirque du Soleil they are not.

You’re in good shape to ride out the night in Channelside and let whatever happens happen — because for one night, at least, what happens in Tampa Bay, stays in Tampa Bay. Not that it does you any good when you get home.

The Inadequacy of the CDC

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:

To paraphrase Sonny Corleone, during a pandemic we need a wartime CDC. And it’s clear we don’t have one. The institutional apparatus designed for managing ‘ordinary’ infectious diseases, researching and improving care for chronic maladies simply isn’t designed for what we’ve confronted in the last two years.

This was my takeaway from reading Michael Lewis’ The Premonition, which felt both premature and prescient when I read it, too.

In my view, public service involves two, at times competing, calls. One is to leverage expertise. A second is to advocate for the best option. The political part of public service is about making calls — often really tough ones and sometime really unpopular ones — is the face of competing demands.

We’ve put the CDC in the place of having to issue perfect decisions or do the work of political leaders by including the balance in their work.

Good Riddance 2021

A review of a past future year in review:

To start with the obvious: this year was better than last year, mostly because coming out of deadly, mismanaged pandemic is better that going into one.

Spoiler alert: we didn’t come out.

I don’t want this review of the past year to get bogged down with schadenfreude, such as Trump’s ongoing criminal proceedings but it helped. The arc of justice blah blah blah. 

Nor do I wat to relive the horrific Iowa legislative session with its rightward push to move public dollars to private schools and reinstating the death penalty by folks who identify as pro-life.

There wasn’t nearly as much movement on any of these items as I expected, for good and for ill. The state government was pretty bad, though.

The first half of the year was very much 2020 2.0: excessive death caused by denial, entitlement and exceptionalism.

We saw more deaths from COVID-19 in 2021 than in 2020, and we’ve let 1 in 100 of our seniors die from the disease.

But by summer that changed. Fewer dying people (good!), but with understandable pandemic fatigue, FOMO was on the rise. 

If 2020 was the year of the introverts, 2021 was the year of fighting off the extroverts.

And so, after my much-anticipated second vaccine dose, I was lured out by friends to enjoy my first meal at a restaurant in more than a year. 

This was kinda true. I ate in a restaurant in early July and felt pretty much OK! But: still lots of death.

Well, enjoyed is too strong of a word. 

I actually did enjoy it. I miss restaurants, but I like not being sick a lot, too.

But everyone else everywhere wanted to do everything in person. Meetings that had rightfully become emails or phone calls were, again, meetings. Everyone wanted to host a cocktail hour, lunch-and-learn or some sort of celebration. If it wasn’t celebrating this year’s birthday (Wait, we’re still eating cake after someone has blown all over it? Have we learned nothing?), it was re-celebrating last year’s missed anniversaries.

Everyone did want to switch to in-person events, though some were still hybrid through the fall. Feels like we’re in a real fuck-it mode right now as the year ends.

It’s not to say that I wasn’t glad to finally be able to see people in person. Thanksgiving and Christmas, my two favorite secular holidays, were better spent in my parents’ living room than spread across Iowa and Illinois, though I did miss the joy of the low-key aspects of the previous year’s pandemic holidays.

We actually traveled — on an airplane! — for Thanksgiving. And Christmas gathering was proceeded by rapid antigen and PCR tests. It was still pretty low key.

I’ve never been a fan of the pervasive “good riddance to [current year]” — the annual refrain suggests we have no real baseline — but 2021 was only marginally better than the year before, so good riddance.

This is 100 percent accurate. Good riddance, 2021.

Kamala Harris Says Administration Did Not Anticipate Omicron

Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris in an interview with the Los Angeles Times’ Noah Bierman:

“We didn’t see Delta coming. I think most scientists did not — upon whose advice and direction we have relied — didn’t see Delta coming,” she said. “We didn’t see Omicron coming. And that’s the nature of what this, this awful virus has been, which as it turns out, has mutations and variants.”

The crisis of Covid-19, which has killed 800,000 Americans, 1 in 100 seniors and more people in 2021 than 2020, has certainly been worsened by the politicization of vaccines, masks and other mitigation, but the failure is bipartisan.

When we closed schools and sent everyone to work from home in March 2020, we returned to a lot of plexiglass and not much else.

In December 2021, we still don’t have national testing capabilities or easy access to rapid tests at pharmacies and grocery stores. That’s on Joe Biden, and to hear his vice president say they didn’t anticipate these variants?

Fucking embarrassing.


2021 Letter

Last year, Laura and I started writing a brief letter to include with our donations (we focus on local organizations helping people and prefer those led by and serving people of color and women). This was our letter for 2021.

We hope this finds you well. 

Like many, we’ve found ourselves to be reflective as we near a second year of a pandemic that has killed more than five people million throughout the world and, officially as of this letter, 101 of our neighbors here in Johnson County.

While this has been difficult, know the unfortunate truth is that, for many, the struggle existed long before it was laid bare for us all to see. And while we’ve seen unprecedented resources made available during the pandemic, more people have been left behind as the gap widens between the affluent and the marginalized.

Building true community safety is possible here, and it will require making sure that the needs of the people who live here are met. We hope your work, and your collaboration with others across our community, can help provide the safety, security, and stability every human deserves.  

Thank you for all the incredible work you do in our community.

Local Press Covers Local Campaign Finance

You can learn a lot — or at least learn a lot about what questions you might have — looking through campaign disclosures, and local races are no different. Iowa makes it pretty easy to access the reports, which are due before Election Day, for candidates running for city, school and state offices.

The graph above comes from George Shillcock of the Press-Citizen, who put together a very nice breakdown of the financial reports for Iowa City candidates while his colleague Cleo Krejci has a breakdown for school board candidates. Meanwhile The Gazette is reporting on the Cedar Rapids races.

It’s nice to see coverage of this since the only way these reports matter are if voters are aware of the reports and digest the context they offer, and the best way for that to happen is, well, reporting on them.

A COVID Serenity Prayer

Lucy McBride in The Atlantic:

Human beings have always coexisted with threats to our health: violence, vehicular crashes, communicable diseases. And many of us have meandered through our perilous existence without thinking much about it. Sure, people may drive more cautiously at nighttime, use condoms with a new partner, and avoid walking through dark alleys alone. But before the pandemic, we didn’t lock down our lives to eliminate all risk. Schools didn’t close during flu season. Doctors didn’t preach abstinence for all in the face of herpes and HIV. We had accepted the inherent riskiness of being human, and we took reasonable precautions where possible.

But for many of us, the pandemic blew apart our complacency—at least when it came to the risk of contracting COVID. People rejiggered their lives with a singular goal in mind: Don’t get infected with the novel coronavirus.

The Kinnick Covid Wave

It’s hard to imagine something exemplifying the failure of Iowa’s leadership through the pandemic more than highlighting its college football stadium, just shy of its 69,250-person capacity, celebrating the end of the first quarter by waving at a full pediatric hospital with lots of immunocompromised kids who cannot yet be vaccinated against a disease that’s killed more than 648,106 people in the United States. 

Style over substance.

I wonder how many members of the crowd, waving in unison, believe that masks are about control and the vaccinated are just mindless followers.

Kim Reynolds Responds to ‘COVID Kim’ Nickname

Nikoel Hytrek at Iowa Starting Line:

Last year, Iowans unimpressed with Gov. Kim Reynolds’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic gave her a new moniker: “COVID Kim.”

Since then, the name has become common among Reynolds’ critics online. WHO 13’s Dave Price asked her about it in an interview that aired Sunday.

Name calling is cheap, even if it’s fitting. Let’s look at what she says.

“People never 100 percent agree with the decisions I make.”
This is true of every elected official, so it doesn’t actually mean anything.

“You know, I have to take a look at the data, surround myself with experts that give me feedback, we did that.”
Data was the free space on Reynolds-press-conference bingo last year. I don’t doubt she looked at data. I don’t doubt she had experts offer input. I just don’t believe she prioritized either.

“I’ve tried to be transparent with Iowans.”
Unlike with Utahns.

“I put my trust in people to do the right thing. They did the right thing.”
She trusts them unless they run any sort of school or work in local government. Some folks did the right thing and some carried on like nothing happened. About six out of 10 got vaccinated. Some spread lies online and in their social circles.

Poorly-drafted Law Opened Door to Iowa City Mask Order

Good analysis from Laura Belin at Bleeding Heartland:

Republican lawmakers intended to prohibit schools, cities, and counties from requiring masks when they amended an education bill on the final day of the legislature’s 2021 session. But House File 847, which Governor Kim Reynolds rushed to sign within hours of its passage, was not well crafted to accomplish that goal.

An apparent drafting error opened the door for the mask order Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague announced on August 19, with the full support of the city council.

Most news organizations missed the care this order was crafted with and followed with stories focused on Iowa City defying state law.

Despite Gov. Kim Reynolds maintaining that cities cannot issue such orders, the question hasn’t actually been tested in court.