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Fifth Street

January 28, 2021

In this issue: Cycling's Hard Road | Vegas Test Kitchen | Media Sommelier | Viva the Atomic Testing Museum!


ON DECEMBER 10, a deliveryman named Jordan Barson from Kingman, Arizona, drove his truck into a group of bicyclists, killing five of them and injuring two others plus the driver of a safety vehicle accompanying them on I-95 outside Searchlight. The victims were among a group of 20 riders doing their yearly trek from the M Hotel in Las Vegas to Nipton, California, and back — about 130 miles total. Barson was later shown to have a high level of methamphetamine in his system at the time of the collision. Authorities have charged him with DUI, and he awaits trial in a Mojave County jail.

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On KNPR’s State of Nevada last week Michael Anderson, a surviving rider from the Nipton Loop, as they call the route, shared his first-person account of what happened and how he’s coping with it. His story took up the first 12 minutes of the program; another hour was devoted to a discussion about bike safety between three guest experts and listeners, who called, emailed, and Tweeted in droves.

I produced the show. I hoped that, in addition to fulfilling a job responsibility — facilitating awareness of an important public safety issue — it would help me process a tragedy that hit close to home. I’m a longtime recreational rider myself, who’s done several centuries (cyclese for 100-mile treks), including one of Anderson’s favorites, the Tour de Tucson. When I heard about the accident, I imagined my own friends — my husband — lying dead on that road.

The public discussion part of the show was surprisingly civil. Only one caller complained about bad biker behavior. Others — perhaps wanting to avoid victim-blaming — focused on a shared desire to avoid collisions. Motorists pleaded with cyclists to wear brighter lights and ride predictably. Cyclists pleaded with motorists to be attentive and slow down. People owned up to their own faction’s contribution to the problem. Safety advocates offered concrete solutions, from improved infrastructure and laws, to PSAs and law enforcement.

A period of respectful abstinence from criticism is one of scant benefits after a tragedy such as the one on December 10, where the motorist was undeniably at fault and the cyclists within their rights. Whether you think cycling the Nipton Loop was prudent or not, it was legal. And even if it hadn’t been, the cyclists wouldn’t have deserved to die.

At the same time, however, there was a vexing thread running through the conversation on State of Nevada, articulated this way by retired Assemblyman Paul Aizley, who in 2011 introduced the state’s 3-feet law requiring motorists passing cyclists to keep a safe distance: “I wouldn’t ride a bicycle in Las Vegas. I’d be afraid I wouldn’t survive.”

It’s a well-founded fear. Despite the sincere efforts of safety advocates like those that appeared on the show, we’ve had this conversation before … in 2019, 2017, 2015, and before. As guest after guest in the most recent installment noted, with an increasing air of resignation, nothing will change until Southern Nevadans embrace a more inclusive view of roads as shared thoroughfares for all types of travelers. My own observations suggest this view is obstructed, in part, by the prevailing belief that a certain type of traveler has supremacy, a belief that’s sometimes expressed as a form of toxic masculinity.  

I’ll give you two examples. A couple years ago, I took my road bike out on the 30-mile Downtown-to-Red Rock route. Going west, I was stopped in the bike lane at a red light on Grand Central Parkway when an older-looking man on a commuter bike pulled up next to me in the auto-traffic right-turn lane, smiled, and tried to strike up a conversation. I replied politely, but briefly, and looked away, watching traffic from the south. As we took off, I zipped easily through the intersection, and for the following block, he struggled mightily to catch up. I could hear him huffing up behind me as I stopped at the red light on MLK Boulevard. I was in better shape on a faster bike, but when the light turned green, he brusquely cut in front of me and went first, forcing me into an awkward choice: go slower than my usual pace and stay behind him, or go my usual pace, pass him, and risk pissing him off. This idiocy continued for miles, with me alternately trying both approaches — and both failing when red lights allowed the one behind to catch up. The whole time, his behavior was aggressive. The first time I passed him, he gestured and yelled something at me. I finally pulled over, sat on the curb, and decided to wait 15 minutes, letting him get far enough ahead that I wouldn’t have to deal with it. As tears welled up in my eyes, I considered calling someone — the police? 3-1-1? What would I say? That an old man on a beat-up Trek was being mean to me? I sucked it up and got back in the saddle.

The second example happened this year, when I was going west in the bike lane on Oakey. I was stopped for a red light at Rainbow when a large pickup truck pulled up on my right. I was squarely in the bike lane, and despite his large vehicle, he had room in the right-turn lane to avoid me. Yet, he chose to get as close to me as possible, going over the line into my lane. As he turned, he gunned the engine, screeched the tires, and swung around broadly. Startled, I wobbled to the left, straddling my bike with one cleat still clipped into my pedal, and nearly fell over. For the second or two he’d been stopped next to me, I’d looked through his driver-side window at him. He was facing my way, checking for oncoming traffic before going. Couldn’t he see that I was a harmless person out for a little exercise on a Sunday morning? Who was I hurting? What did I do to deserve that?

These are two examples of many similar incidents. The common thread, as far as I can tell, is that I’m a woman alone being harassed by a man. I know personal experiences don’t amount to data, but there are plenty of accounts of gender-based harassment in recreational sports. It doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to connect the dots and say that’s what happened to me.

What does this have to do with cycling safety? If our problem is, at heart, one of attitude, then it can’t hurt to address attitude from every angle, including the intolerance of people who believe their right to the roads supersedes others’ — bicyclists, pedestrians, people of color, women … We can’t be completely honest about inclusivity without addressing entitlement and privilege, in addition to laws and infrastructure.

And on the off chance you think there’s no racism in bicycling, then I invite you to take a couple rides with me for comparison — say, the wash trail into North Las Vegas, and the 215 beltway trail through Summerlin. See which one is full of trash and jarring cracks in the pavement, and which one is clean and well-maintained. Or have a look at a Clark County bike map and tell me: Are there more interconnected, dedicated lanes and trails catering to suburban recreational riders, or urban commuters who may have no other mode of transportation? And why do you think this is?

During the State of Nevada discussion, Keely Brooks talked about Change Lanes for Bikes, the Southern Nevada Bicycle Coalition’s education campaign. The coalition has worked to teach everyone from school kids to people passing their driver’s license tests about the 3-feet law for drivers. Brooks said the next push will be aimed at new cyclists, teaching them safe ways to ride.

“We (cyclists) need to be accountable for our own actions as well,” she said. “Be visible, be predictable, be respectful of motorists. In order to get where we want to go safely, we can’t have that animosity. Motorists have to understand we’re people too, we’re drivers too. Educating both sides is really important to keep everyone safe.”

Education certainly is important, but let’s think more deeply about who’s at fault. What if you are visible, predictable, respectful, and it doesn’t matter? What if the person putting you at risk of harm is not a motorist, but another cyclist? As the coalition and other groups tackle the thorny problem of animosity and accountability, I hope they’ll dig beneath the surface and have hard conversations about bias. Sometimes the real problem isn’t leaving too little distance between you and someone else; it’s believing she doesn’t have a right to be there to begin with. If that’s the case, then you need to ask yourself why.

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"I'M A VOID-FILLER," Jolene Mannina says of her latest project. In this instance, the project isn’t an after-hours chefs’ competition like Back of House Brawl, or a pop-up specialty menu on secretburger.com — two breakout projects from the culinary entrepreneur. No, Mannina’s latest project, Vegas Test Kitchen, fills an everyday void for both Las Vegas diners and chefs. It’s a Downtown food hall made for Vegas locals by Vegas locals.

The concept: Seven chefs share a building, each with their own space, each trying out concepts that may one day develop into their own brick-and-mortar restaurants. Or, they might flame out after their initial three-month run at Vegas Test Kitchen.

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“The whole thing, overall, is a test,” Mannina says (pictured right). And she’s not just talking about the food; she’s talking about testing new ways of ordering, preparing, and serving food. For her, it’s a menu of possibilities. “Doing contactless and cashless ordering, you have to order from your phone, you have to pay from your phone — will that work? Can you have this number of chefs under one roof working cohesively and offer something unique to the public?” It’s rife with risks and rewards: The reward of a possible breakout concept that buoys the rest, or conversely, swallows up most of the customers.

It works like this: You walk into the “hall” to see what strikes your fancy. But unlike traditional food halls such as Grand Central Market in Los Angeles or St. Roch Market in New Orleans, you can’t really see what everybody is offering. The tiny space allotted for each outlet at Vegas Test Kitchen doesn’t allow for much eye candy. Instead, you scan a QR code on your phone, and the entire menu, with pictures, appears on your screen via the website vegastestkitchen.menu. The site also serves as a one-stop point of payment.

A small number of seats are available indoors, but the alley outside is a more preferable place to sit. It’s great for people-watching and, of course, provides a safer option for diners. Besides that, the alluring smells of Yukon Pizza might attract your attention as Yukon’s Alex White and crew put out pies from their oven in the alley.

White has been a Downtown mainstay for years. He upped his presence and fan base during the quarantine, cooking pies from anywhere he could, whether out of his home or pop-ups at Fergusons next door. He uses a sourdough starter that’s been in his family since 1897 to create his base dough, and his pies riff on Neapolitan and New York-style pizza. White is thrilled to have his feet, and his oven, finally planted somewhere.

“Jolene approached us last fall and offered us this awesome spot, and the opportunity to come into the kitchen space and legitimize the last part of the business, which was proper permitting, licensing with the health department, and stuff like that.” he says. “Having the area to do everything and work out of is pretty awesome.”

Nina Manchev (headline picture), owner of Forte European Tapas Bar and Bistro, had already established Forte as a destination dining spot that’s been spotlighted by Guy Fieri on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Still, Manchev leaped at the opportunity to take a chance at Vegas Test Kitchen. “If I wanted to do this (myself), I'd have to find a place, I’d have to get the licenses, I’d have to go through this whole process,” she says. Here, all she has to do is focus on baniza, a dish from Bulgaria getting some real focus in Vegas. Her corner of the kitchen, Banichka, exclusively sells varieties of European stuffed pastries. Manchev and her team are currently offering eight different types of baniza, sofiiska and zakuski, which feature multiple shapes, fillings and doughs. (Her most popular so far is The Buldog, a roll stuffed with bacon-wrapped hot dogs and cheese.) It’s not just a business opportunity for her, but a cultural one as well.

“People are just figuring out that Bulgaria has all these different things that maybe they’ve tried in other cultures,” Manchev says. “I want to share these different parts, just show it and let people experience it.”

Sticking with the dough theme, Sonia El-Nawal introduced her version of a New York bagel sandwich in 2020 at her Desert Shores eatery, Rooster Boy Café. Upon arrival, it immediately became one of the best bagels in Las Vegas. She’s now moved all of her bagel sales to her Bodega Bagel kiosk at Vegas Test Kitchen.

Three concepts with Asian flair round out the savory options. Lanny Chin, who ran the kitchen at The Slanted Door in The Forum Shops at Caesars, has taken his love of ramen and righteously crunchy egg rolls and created Slurp Society. Crystina Nguyen is showcasing superb Vietnamese crepes and banh mi at This Mama’s House. And Sung Park, former executive chef at Sake Rok at T-Mobile Arena, expands his home-catering sushi game at Sliced, where the poke bowl alone is worth repeat visits. Finally, Chef Andrea McClain hits the sweet spot with her varieties of homemade pies at Pop’n’Pies.

So, how does this all play out? Will this one day be looked back upon as a wild idea that had a nice run, or does Vegas Test Kitchen have legs? Mannina is betting on the latter. “My creative side pushed this forward in this time of need,” she says. “I think that this is amazing and can definitely live on beyond quarantine.” She says she’s fielding emails from numerous chefs pitching concepts for the test kitchen, and she’s had discussions about bringing the test-kitchen idea to other parts of the city. The concept is novel, but to her, the spirit is simple. “It's just about having an amazing restaurant with great food.”

Vegas Test Kitchen is located at 1020 Fremont St. #120.

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1. IF PARENTING is rarely easy in normal times, parenting during a pandemic piles on heavy new layers of confusion, frustration, and conflict. And as we fishtail deeper into 2021’s purgatorial uncertainties — suspended between the sweet promise of a vaccine and its clumsy rollout, between the need to remain safe and the grim despair of lockdown — something has to give. Too often that’s children’s mental health, according to this New York Times story about an uptick in suicides among Clark County students during the pandemic: “Since schools shut their doors in March, an early-warning system that monitors students’ mental health episodes has sent more than 3,100 alerts to district officials, raising alarms about suicidal thoughts, possible self-harm or cries for care. By December, 18 students had taken their own lives.” Citing these deaths and their emotional toll, Superintendent Jesus Jara presses his case to reopen schools — isolated kids need some normalcy.

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2. One excellent thing journalism can do is complicate the casual stereotyping we impose on the world. So, courtesy of High Country News, I give you “the gun-toting Tenacious Unicorns in rural Colorado.” They are a collective of alpaca-farming, anti-racist, eco-minded queer and trans folk who live in Custer County, Colorado — a conservative stronghold and militia hot zone that went 70 percent for Trump in November. But, as reporter Eric Siegel finds, neither the Unicorns nor the county conform to established expectations. The collective’s members wear shootin’ irons and don’t keep to themselves in notional safety — they’ve visibly worked themselves into the community’s fabric. “It’s really hard for people to paint you as ‘weird’ or whatever, if you’re just helping people,” one says. In turn, they’ve drawn out lefty sentiments previously latent in the area. That, the Unicorns say, is how you defeat fascism: building supportive networks in the face of the West’s white-male, rugged-individualist, manifest-destiny mythology. “There’s plenty of space in those communities for queer voices.”

3. Here’s a cool-ranch riff about the brief mindfulness of eating a bag of chips: “Eating these chips will rescue us, above all, from the very worst things on our screens, the cursed news of the outside world — escalating numbers, civic decay, gangs of elderly men behaving like children.”

4. We’re all suffering acute meme-sickness from the Bernie/mittens photo. Here, by way of inoculating yourself, is a Q&A with the photographer who took 2021’s most loved and hated photo.

5. In the gummy continuum of pandemic time, the siege of the Capitol seems to have happened ages ago. Haven’t we peacefully changed presidents at least once since then? Yes? Whew, am I right? But we’re not out of 1/6’s psychic blast zone yet, and, with the specter of an impeachment trial haunting Washington, D.C., fears of more wingnut violence haven’t dissipated. Nor have calls for a beefy new domestic terrorism law by some on the left who, in a spirit of giddy schadenfreude, wouldn’t mind seeing more TrumpAnon mug shots grace the socials. But, as The Baffler points out — remember your history, people — “there’s no conceivable trajectory where these tools don’t get used disproportionately against left-wing critics and protesters.” I mean, the FBI’s always gonna FBI. As for those extremists, The Wall Street Journal has put together an investigative video tracking the Proud Boys’ efforts “coordinating, instigating, and leading” the insurrection. It’s 12 compelling minutes that drop you right back into That Day as it deflates the group’s attempt to distance itself from the deadly pandemonium. And for a peek into the chaotic mind of the post-1/6 alt-right through the lens of cutesy slang, The Atlantic explores their fear of “glowies.”

6. Let’s end on a literally happy note — listening to a dozen celebrities describe what makes them happy. From extensive interviews with athletes, entertainers, writers, and more, GQ has compiled what it calls “The Happiness Project.” It’s wordy AF but easy to skim. Leaving you plenty of time to eat a bag of chips. Scott Dickensheets

 

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DIRTY MARTINIS on the roof of the El Cortez with a mushroom cloud on the near horizon … atavistic beauty pageants with bikinis celebrating the Bomb … oh, those crazy days of Atomic Culture — and Las Vegas was Ground Zero.

As significant as the Hoover Dam, gambling, and the entertainment and convention businesses have been to the city’s economy and sociology, the role of military-industrial investment can't be ignored. A key highlight is Nevada’s atomic testing program. It meant not only postwar infrastructure funding and job growth, it dramatically changed the region's cultural and pop-psych profile worldwide.

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This is just one of the insights into local history — and the American Collective Unconscious — you gain by visiting the National Atomic Testing Museum, one of the finest facilities of its scope in America, and, I think, the world.

Meticulously arranged, with expertly curated and researched descriptions, the exhibitions offer some rare puzzle pieces from this bizarre, whimsical, and yet deeply shadowy part of America’s mid-20th century. Where else can you learn very directly about nuclear reactors, historic missile systems, peculiar atmospheric experiments, exotic aircraft, “personal” atomic weapons, radiation, underground testing, once top-secret programs, brought to vivid life via genuine artifacts, official documents, and photographs?

What I find particularly remarkable are the set pieces showing sample interiors of the Doom Town “blast houses” (model homes with model people!) that were used to film, measure, and evaluate the effects of bomb detonations in a normal residential context. There’s something confusingly human, almost a quaint, even innocent touch, in these old mannequins, graciously and maybe shrewdly contributed by J.C. Penney. For me, this daft, clinical doll-housing of mutual assured destruction and possible apocalypse fails to domesticate the terror. Rather, it hints at other eccentricities and paranoias lurking in the Twilight Zone blur of our not-too-distant, Formica-patterned, Flintstones-meets-The Jetsons past. Boom, baby.

755 E. Flamingo Road, nationalatomictestingmuseum.org

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Photos and art: Cycling: Connel/Shutterstock; Nina Manchev, Jolene Mannina: Sabin Orr; Downtown atomic test: courtesy Atomic Testing Museum

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