Armed with a flashlight, tape recorder, and expandable baton, author Matt O’Brien explored the Las Vegas flood-control system for four years.
Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas chronicles O’Brien’s adventures. He follows in the footsteps of a psycho killer. He braces against a raging flood. He parties with naked crackheads. He learns that art is most beautiful where it’s least expected in many ways he prefers the underground to aboveground Las Vegas, and that there are no pots of gold under the neon rainbow.
In 2002, as managing editor of the alternative weekly, Las Vegas CityLife, O'Brien was intrigued when a murderer eluded police by vanishing into the Vegas flood-control system. After O'Brien and CityLife contributor Josh Ellis explored half a dozen storm drains, their adventures attracted such attention on the Internet that the publication's Web site scored a million hits in a day. By then, O'Brien was convinced "there were secrets to be discovered beneath the neon." His first discovery was that, despite the dangers, homeless men and women were living in the tunnels. How did they wind up there? Returning with a tape recorder and flashlight, he interviewed the storm-drain denizens, finding one sleeping in an elevated bed suspended above the watery floor, another residing in a plywood hut and some in the cool tunnels just to escape the heat. The photos capture the inhabitants of these bleak encampments. Continually contrasting the sparkling casinos above with the dank, cobwebbed catacombs below, the observant O'Brien writes with a noirish flair, but his compassion is also evident as he illuminates the lives of these shadowy subterranean dwellers.